I'm giving a keynote at a YouTube event this week and as part of the prep for it I've been thinking about interfaces, prompted in part by John's excellent reviews of the iPad as TV, only more so. The launch of the iPad has already been pretty successful. Carl Howe asserted that, at less than 120 days since announcement, it will "likely take the crown for the fastest consumer product growth to the $1 billion revenue mark in history". Grant McCracken neatly identified the role that unique situational and cognitive contexts play in helping the iPad find its own market somewhere between the smart phone and the laptop, splitting the difference between those existing categories whilst respecting the way the consumer views modes of entertainment, recreation and contemplation:
"The iPad critics can't see this third space because they work from a utilitarian point of view. For them, iPad will create economic value only if it solves practical problems. But Apple has always seen the economic proposition as a cultural one, as an opportunity to speak to the entire consumer in all of his or her complexity, not just the problem solver."
It's a device that combines a screen large enough screen to comfortably watch long-form video content, with a personal feel and portability akin to mobile, and interactivity like a PC (only better). (Good) touch interfaces are simply more intuitive, more inviting, more fun. If you doubt that, watch this video of a two and a half year old making short shrift of getting to know an iPad (HT to John):
In Convergence Culture (one of my favourite books on media and culture), Henry jenkins talks about the 'Black Box' fallacy, the common argument that sooner or later all media content will flow through a single black box that sits in our living rooms or that we carry around with us, when actually convergence is more about content and people than it is about technology. The book describes a model of media defined by Lisa Gitelman that works on two levels: a medium is a technology that enables communication but it is also a set of associated 'protocols' – social and cultural practices that have grown up around that technology. Delivery systems, as technologies, may come and go. But media are also cultural systems, so the more interesting aspect of new technologies is the shift in protocols that they facilitate.
"Convergence does not depend on any specific delivery mechanism, rather, convergence represents a paradigm shift – a move from medium-specific content toward content that flows across multiple media channels, toward the interdependence of communication systems, toward multiple ways of accessing media content, and toward ever more complex relations between top down corporate media and bottom up participatory culture."
It's tempting to view the iPad in the terms of a technologically convergent device and to a degree it is. But this ignores its cultural significance, and rather than think about what it might replace it's better to get excited about how it might change the relationship people have with their media. Taking TV into new situational contexts, like John proposes. Or different ways of bridging the digital and real world in ways that our smartphones haven't been able, maybe through gaming as Paul suggests. Or new ways of bringing alive direct interaction with video content through a touch interface, perhaps using technologies like Annotations, like the example below (remember the ad agency with no website?)
A medium's content, audience and even its social status may shift, but they are rarely replaced. As Jenkins says, "Old media are not being displaced. Rather, their functions and status are shifted by the introduction of new technologies."