The NI Tech Show episode 4

This evening, Chris posted episode 4 of the NI Tech Show (iTunes – a wee review would be nice).

I’m finding the show to be an opportunity to not only vent my thoughts about this or that, but also an opportunity to name drop every cool thing happening in Tech in Northern Ireland. And why? Because it’s easy to get a bad story into the news. Anything that has the slightest negative about it can easy find itself plastered all over the BelTel or worse, syndicated internationally. The Tech Show isn’t about that.

It’s not about being “balanced” either. I’ve seen stories by ‘reputable’ journalists in the BBC or the Guardian where they promote a fringe view opposing a lead story because they feel the need to be balanced. The problem that I see is that we have probably ten times as many good stories as bad stories. It’s just that journalists aren’t interested in good stories. The balance is there, it’s just no-one talks about the good.

So, I’m laying out my stall. I live in Northern Ireland. I intend to stay living in Northern Ireland because I like it here. I’m hitching my cart to the Northern Ireland economy and trusting that my “small good” actions will ultimately be “big good” in the future.

And you may not like all of it, but it’s out there. It’s unconditionally honest.

Interesting Stats on Steam. How’s your multiplayer?

This was taken at 11:45 am UK time. That would be 06:45 in New York and 03:45 in California. Knowing that other people are playing your game means you’re more likely to play it. Would it be useful to include stats like this in every multiplayer game?

Technology does not remove the need for great teaching and active learning – it enables them – Ken Robinson

I got an amazing number of retweets to “Every Teacher that can be replaced by an iPad, should be”. And the title of todays post is a great accompaniment to the meme.

I am extremely pro-education. Considering I’m touring schools for my kids post-primary education, I take note of little things – such as the prevalence of ICT resource, the layout of desks and presence of student work. I’ve seen some amazing examples of all of this over the last couple of weeks but what’s most encouraging for me is the number of schools in Northern Ireland which have started their 1:1 programmes for technology in education.

I’ve been introduced to iPad deployments in Wallace High School, Wellington College, Oliver Plunkett Primary, Banbridge Academy and Bangor Academy. I’d love to know about more in a our little province.

With respect to my day job, I’m interested in increasing the amount of curriculum-supporting content that is produced, understanding that the content presented to Northern Irish schools (for example, in History it is The Famine, The United Irishmen) may be different to the content presented to North American schools. There’s a question around whether the ability to create standardised and reasonably priced textbooks (a la iBooks) has gone far enough.

At the LwF conference earlier this week (which I didn’t get to attend), there was a refrain of “Bring a Browser” rather than “Bring Your Own Device” being a solution for education. I would have to echo Fraser Speirs in that this presents a “non-selection” of technology. It represents an unwillingness to make a decision either way. While I think everyone would like to see content presented in a cross-platform and universally accessible way at some point, the reality is that most platforms are not ready for this. If you build for this now, you will end up with a compromised solution, a fits-no-one delivery of lacklustre content where you might as well have delivered it using text, images and radio buttons. It would become a fundamental waste of resources.

I’m as keen on Teacher Engagement as much as I am on Student Engagement. In The Tech Show podcast, we spend a little time talking about student engagement and attainment and attempting to relate that it’s not about getting the answers to questions (and relate this via the repulsive idea that a teacher might give the answers to students being the worst outcome of modern education).

How might technology engage a Teacher more in delivery?

ePubs and iBooks and whether we care about the EULA.

I took a couple of days to digest the iBooks Author news – to see what the fuss was about and form my own opinions in a timely fashion. I even took time to hoover in all of the opinion on the industry which, on the side of the creators, seems largely positive and on the side of the publishers, seems largely negative.

iBooks Author enables normal folk to create some amazing content. It enables the embedding of HTML widgets, the inclusion of presentation decks, 3D models, pictures, text – in fact – everything you’d want in a book or a magazine, and previously had to pay for an individual app. But one issue, these extra features won’t work in any competing ePub reader because they’re exclusive to iBooks.

From Nameless Horror: iBooks Author Rage

Apple claim no ownership of the product (there’s the standard “we reserve the right to reject and/or pull your book from the store” but that’s no different to any other e-store or bricks ‘n mortar outlet; you don’t have a right to be sold). Your copyright is unaffected. There is nothing whatsoever (so far as I can see) stopping you from taking the same content, assembling a different epub edition in a different program, of which there are plenty (though I’ve not found one that handles this level of designed-for-touch-device interaction and prettiness quite so easily

Obviously some folk are up in arms. Ed Bott, particularly, calls Apple “evil” and “greedy” but I’m failing to understand why he’s so incensed. Apple supports ePub formats, they continue to make the best reader of this cross-platform format on any platform.

All we’re waiting for is someone to create “ePub Author”.

So, two things.

  1. Why didn’t Apple create ePub Author? (and why are people upset about this?)
  2. Why hasn’t anyone created ePub Author? (and why are people not upset about this?)

The world hasn’t had much success in getting open standards out there. I mean, HTML is a standard and look at the mess we’ve had to endure for the last twenty years. And yes, the W3C can rail all they want about the proprietary extensions that make “iBooks” differ from “Epub” but do we have to think about why no-one has made an ePub Author app that doesn’t suck? You can get ePubs out of InDesign and out of Pages but if you want great results, you’re hand-coding the bits and pieces. And that’s not going to make anyone happy.

The big issue for some seems to be the EULA which demands a level of control over the output of the software. That is, they give you a tool for free to create great iBooks, which you can give away for free or sell for less the $15 on the store they’ll set up for you. This not only undercuts a shedload of publishers but also sets a precedent for the pricing. If $15 is the top price, eBooks just got a hell of a lot more affordable. That’s gotta be good for the market and, if Apple is only taking 30% of cover, it’s a lot better for the author as well. Speaking from experience here.

Some folk have compared this to, say, Microsoft demanding control of the output of Microsoft Word which would be a valid comparison if Apple had a monopoly share of the operating systems, a monopoly share of the word processing market, charged several hundred quid for iBooks Author and pushed the iBooks format as a standard across all devices, platforms and organisations. Which, of course, it doesn’t. On any level.

Some people pointed out that Apple has a monopoly share of the tablet market. Which, again, I’d have to say they don’t. They just have a large share of the profits and a pretty good share of shipments. But there were 87-odd tablets announced at CES in 2011 and I’m sure that some of them are selling, somewhere to someone.

Some folk are determined to blame Apple for breaking their expectations that the company would release an amazing ePub editor. Not only that – but that would allow folk to build sparkly ePubs on a Mac using a free tool, glittering with Apple Awesome Sauce and sell them for any price on Android. In any sane version of the world, this does not work. Apple has no interest in promoting Android – they’re much more likely to promote Windows Phone 7 than Android, truth be told. And they’ve no interest in promoting you and your product unless it coincides with their own aims: making the Mac, the iPad and the iPhone the world leaders in great products.

You want to make great ePubs and sell them anywhere? Apple still provides probably the best ePub reader on any platform, for free, to about 300 million customers on iOS. Customers who don’t mind paying for content. And you can deploy on Android and wherever else has an ePub reader. It’s a standard so there must be millions of them. All you have to do is hand-roll the ePubs yourself. Stop stop whinging and get stuck in.

But for the average punter? iBooks just works. And the iBooks available through iBooks Author (though there doesn’t seem to be a solution for iPhone) will be fine considering the number of iPads out there. As a consumer of eBook formats, iBooks delivers – as does Kindle. I don’t recall the outcry when Kindle didn’t support the ePub standard?

Total Apple Revenues by Product Line

MacWorld posted this neat graph.

$46.33 billion in sales.
$13.06 billion in profit.
37 million iPhones.
15 Million iPads.
Probably about 20 million iPod touch.

That’s around 70 million new iOS customers in the last quarter.

All I’m gonna say is – considering the iPad is three years behind the iPhone, keep an eye on that red line. I reckon next year it’s going to take a jump.

YCombinator: KILL HOLLYWOOD

An hour or so after I posted my “DigitalFirst” idea, I was sent this latest blog post by YCombinator in their RFS (Request for Startups) series.

KILL HOLLYWOOD

The main reason we want to fund such startups is not to protect the world from more SOPAs, but because SOPA brought it to our attention that Hollywood is dying. They must be dying if they’re resorting to such tactics.

What’s going to kill movies and TV is what’s already killing them: better ways to entertain people. So the best way to approach this problem is to ask yourself: what are people going to do for fun in 20 years instead of what they do now?

Don’t think though, that this means Hollywood is going away. There’s probably a few more versions of bad laws to be submitted, received, reviewed and eventually defeated. And don’t think either that the individual companies in Hollywood are actually the enemy. Some of them will willingly collaborate on a project that will increase their distribution, monetize their content and fillet the big boys.

Put it this way: Apple wasn’t a powerhouse when they went to the record labels with the iTunes Store idea. But they’re now in the uncomfortable position of being a middle man in all of this.

Speaking to some small companies in Northern Ireland like Small Town America and Bruised Fruit, Sixteen South and Straandlooper, Scattered Images and 360 Productions; there’s appetite for change.

DigitalFirst

Netflix launched in the UK this month adding a competitor to the lacklustre LoveFilm services recently acquired by Amazon. The service, while not streaming the latest movies (or even the greatest movies), worked flawlessly and provided a crystal sharp picture on my iPad. Suffice to say I’m a fan of this sort of service and, as a market disruptor, I’ve become something of a fan of Netflix. I wrote a little about this before.

THURSDAY, MARCH 17, 2011
Hi, Ted Sarandos, Netflix Chief Content Officer here. We’re delighted to tell you that in late 2012 Netflix will be bringing to our members in the U.S. and Canada exclusively “House of Cards,” the much-anticipated television series and political thriller from Executive Producer David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey. We’ve committed to at least 26 episodes of the serialized drama, which is based on a BBC mini-series from the 1990s that’s been a favorite of Netflix members. – Netflix Blog

This presents a new opportunity for our local independent production houses faced with the uncertainty of whether the DQF framework will affect the Nations & Regions commissioning targets. (In essence, they may hit the target but if the pie is smaller, it’s a zero sum argument). This is partly why I have been unconvinced that the BBC represents a major force in local digital media and certainly questions the idea that it should be a leader in the local industry.

Traditionally, television has handled ‘digital’ poorly. We only have to look at the lack of understanding of YouTube to see how television IP owners balance along a wobbly line trying to to get their content onto YouTube without actually giving away their content. They’d kill it if they could. And it’s obvious from the lineup on Netflix that it is somewhat of a graveyard for television and film – content that they cannot commercialise or, at the very least, are willing to make pennies on as a loss leader to more premium content. This is why it contains only 4 series of the new Dr Who, none of the old Dr Who, the first National Treasure movie but not the second and a list of other properties that are just a little past their sell-by date.

So, what are the other possibilities?

Richard Desmond’s Channel 5 is to launch its own in-house production division and is developing formats including a cookery show fronted by Marco Pierre White.

The new department, called Channel 5 Productions, will be the first time in the broadcaster’s near 15-year history that it has made its own programmes. – Guardian

While getting a commission from the BBC might be like a being given a brand of Promethean fire, it’s hard for me to feel the same about Channel 5. It is plain to me that the entire business model of television is at odds with digital. It just seems weird to me. But the opportunities to get your work beamed into millions of homes for critical review must (despite the narcissistic validation) be an unmatched experience.

Meeting with Channel 4 earlier this week and then reading their commissioning guidelines this morning has my mind racing with possibilities. It was something said during the meeting (by Susie Wright, over from Channel 4 in Glasgow) that the company was searching for the Golden Fleece. The model for their multi platform commissions has traditionally been television-first and then digital. The concept of a property which is digital-first and then moves to television is exciting though I’ve not found anyone who can give me a concrete example of it. Would it be covered by an Angry Birds animated cartoon? Maybe the makers of Temple Run could make a television format akin to Total Wipeout and The Crystal Maze? (Actually, that last one is a great idea).

My dream is probably riskier, probably a little bit disruptive and probably a lot impossible.

If our short form content producers cannot get their creations viewed (never mind commercialised) then maybe it’s because a platform is missing. Where is the public access digital television channel? Distributed over the net, time sliced with adverts, advert- free with micropayments, using networks to their best advantage, distributed though a bit-torrent protocol, caching heavily and available on every platform. It would be the perfect platform for hyper-local television services.

This is a possibility for digital first as opposed to television first.

Dear Esther – 14th Feb 2012

(MP4 Link – 61 MB)

Let me start by saying: I love this.

It’s not the breathtaking visuals. The construction of a world extremely similar to our own yet with an ethereal, otherworldly quality. It’s the cadence and tone of the voiceover. It reminds me of the outstanding Eve of the War vocals by Richard Burton.

Every game should aspire to having this sort of visual and auditory delight.

The Tech Show – Episode 01

Welcome to the first of our planned weekly tech shows, hosted by Chris Taylor and Matt Johnston.

Head on over to eamonnmallie.com

As this is the first show, we haven’t any theme music or cover art, but if you would like to volunteer your services to write a jingle or design the cover art please get in touch.

We cover a lot of territory and the podcast is quite long. Perfect for a commute in the morning.