The iPod moment is here — on the iPod

My Guardian column this week argues that the iPod moment for newspapers has arrived — and it’s the iPod:

In these pages, internet parent Vint Cerf wondered when television would reach its iPod moment – that is, the time when we download video more than we sit watching broadcasts. Then TV will face the upheaval music has barely survived. Also here, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has speculated about newspapers’ iPod moment, which he foresees arriving with the emergence of “a relatively mass-market device on which reading a newspaper (and watching it and listening to it) will seem quite normal”. Or as Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams blogged: “When you have a web browser in your pocket, a printed newspaper is redundant.”

Well, I think the iPod moment is here. It arrived with the latest iPod and its off shoot, the iPhone. The momentousness of this event was lost, I think, because Apple made a mistake in its release of the latest iPods in the US. Apple first released the iPhone and then announced the almost identical but phoneless iPod Touch. The problem was that we came to see this new device first and foremost as a phone with a few added features. But if Apple had released the iPod Touch first – as it has done in the UK – we would have seen that this gadget is really a whole computer with wi-fi connectivity, a web browser that has the ability to download and display – and also capture and share – all media: text (I just met an author who’s releasing his novel on the iPod), photos, audio, video, interactivity. The iPhone is then merely the same computer with a telephone added.

These new devices represent the next generation of the computer: small, sleek, powerful, portable. Everything that the computer, the web, and the browser have done to content – enabling it to become infinite but personal; instantaneous yet permanent; unrestricted by medium because it offers all media; and enriched by the conversation around it – is now in the palm of your hand. Everything you can do on the web you can do with media on the iPhone, anywhere, any time.

For decades, I’ve watched newspaper industry thinktanks – the too few that exist – try to invent the next medium for news. This usually takes the mythical form of e-paper, thin as a sheet and just as portable, able to display newspapers like newspapers, very Harry Potter. I have also seen too many newspapers and magazines attempting to use painful PDF technology to display their publications on screens exactly as they appear on paper. Why? Ego, I think, and comfort and fear of change. The New York Times recently did a deal with Microsoft to use its new reader, which looks as attractive, if grey, as the Times itself and enables familiar activities like turning pages, but which loses some of the rich linking and interactivity of the web.

I think that’s all driving the wrong way: backwards. These are attempts to mold technology to old media. What we should be doing instead, of course, is molding media to new technology. We should be asking what new we can do on this new iPhone.

Sadly, I don’t own an iPhone. My teen son has one, bought with the proceeds of his Facebook application programming. His mother has ruled that if he can teach his dad to write apps, then perhaps I, too, can afford the wondrous gadget. But once in a while, he lets me play with it. And more important, I get to observe him using it. And what I see is quite simple and obvious: he’s on the web. For this is just a browser, always connected constantly with him.

Rusbridger has predicted that if and when the iPod moment arrives, “the world of newspapers will shudder on its axis” and journalists will “have a responsibility to have our editorial offering in a shape that will readily adapt to whatever comes along next (the unnerving bit)”. What’s unnerving is that word, “whatever”, and the implication that we don’t know what’s coming next.

But perhaps we do. If all the iPhone does is clip the wires that constrained the browser, then our first iPod moment came 13 years ago this month when the first commercial browser was released. And the challenges we’ve faced since are the same challenges we face now, only yet more urgent: how do we use this wonderful device to give people the news and links whenever, wherever, and however they want it? How do we do that with incredible efficiency? How do we make it local and relevant? How do we take advantage of the two-way relationship we now have, enabling people with these gadgets to share what they know? And – here’s what everyone really means when they talk about iPod moments – how do we make money doing it?

  • Hearing first of podcasting, is it more than internet downloading? No, but information that you keep on you is different. iPod and iPhone is the closest yet to a personal content communicator. In the wireless industry we port to Vista, we build for Dell, but when a customer want’s an Apple version they say, “We want the Apple experience” for our customers. This is an unwritten rule. It is code for fully integrated hardware, software product. They do not ever say “We want our customers to have the Microsoft experience.” My point being that the iPod moment is about marveling and respecting the personal experience first, everything else follows.

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  • 1. Yes, Jeff, it’s is a marvelous tool.

    2. I will buy it again, and again.

    3. But needs longer batteries.

    4. The screen as to be bigger.

    5. The hole thing needs to be thinner.

    6. And, for sure, lacks a video camera.

    7. There are many other technical issues that need improvements but I am not worry: Apple will provide better and better versions of this terrific multimedia phone.

    So, Jeff, buy it!

  • If the iPod Touch is nothing less than “a whole computer with wi-fi connectivity, a web browser that has the ability to download and display – and also capture and share – all media”, what can I do when I am far from a wi-fi hotspot and I want to connect to internet? I have to use a iPhone, the same thing that I should do if I had a laptop.

    That means that the real innovation is the iPhone, not the iPod Touch, which is “only” a laptop smaller than a laptop.
    My 2 cents

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  • Absolutely spot on, Mr. Jarvis. The point most people seem to miss when they dismiss the iPhone as just an overpriced cellular is this:

    It’s not a phone. It’s a computer.

    And the changes this first wave of new ultra-portable networked personal computers are going to bring, not just to the newspaper, music and telelvison industries but also to politics and the whole world economy will be nothing short of revolutionary.


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  • Not in agreement that music has barely survived the upheaval caused by mp3 downloads/ipods etc. Further, there is an argument that new music is being released from the constraints that used to be imposed on artists by having to go down the traditional route of getting signed to a record label, and perhaps even have that label and their production staff impose their own ideas upon the artists’ creative output. Admittedly I don’t personally know how far this has been a factor in the history of recorded music, but it seems logical and was certainly responsible for a lot of poor quality generic popular music in the last few decades.

    Good point about newspapers attempts to recreate the paper medium in electronic format. Pointless. Am I the only person to think that the loading times of .pdf’s are atrocious and not getting any better?

  • Jeff:

    I was standing out front of a sold-out concert in Mill Valley, California, Sunday night, first in line, with my ticket.

    I was talking to a guy in the RUSH line, who was waiting and hoping to buy a ticket to the event.

    Just for giggles, I pulled out my iPhone, logged onto the local Craig’s List, and found a ticket seller who had left only their e-mail contact. I took Mr. Rush’s cell phone number, and e-mailed that to the ticket seller.

    A few minutes later, Mr. Rush’s cell rang, and the ticket seller said she’d be right downtown to sell him her extra ticket.

    She did, and the guy thanked me profusely, both outside, and during the break when he saw me in the theater.

    THAT’s part of what the iPhone does. Interactive community.

  • To answer the questions in your last paragraph, Jeff….

    1) Improve the device’s web coverage and access.

    2) See answer #1.

    3) Ibid #2 & #1.

    4) opsit, #’s 3, 2 and 1.

    5) Advertising.

  • Maybe. I own an iPhone and love the browser (though it is in a tie with Google Maps, which essentially replaces the need to ever dial ‘411’ or even to have a GPS for driving directions). But my prefered browsing experience, even on a robust WiFi network, remains m.*.com sites and RSS, via the beautifully simple default service. Web pages have become too bloated and too dependent on Flash (which, btw, the iPhone still does not support, along with Java.)

    Here’s how your theory works, though: fitting the media to the medium for the ultra-portable, ultra-small devices that we will always carry (as long as they include a phone) still means giving a first taste in text-only format. If you have to, consider it a widget that is really a gateway to a full site or a multimedia-enhanced page rather than a throwback to the pre-Mosaic dark ages.

    So, as I see it, RSS — dressed up in Blidget boxes, as Facebook apps or in plain text — is going to be the way media companies gain new loyalties and traction, because it just works so darn good on devices of choice like the iPhone. Boring, but true.

    And, yes, please just get one …

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  • I.M. Small


    Then put this in your pipe and smoke it:
    Taking Iraq, the takers broke it,
    And thereby “owned”
    As Powell said,
    The whole thing zoned
    In green and red.

    How much of blood, how much of treasure
    Should be the proper price, or measure
    Whereby success
    The scheme achieve?
    Should more or less
    Iraqis grieve?

    One nation under God if God´s
    A gambler reckless with the odds,
    As every region´s
    Fakes and frauds
    Still pledge allegience
    To the iPods.

    Put morals on sabbatical,
    Supporting fools fanatical,
    Fed crazy schemes
    Of brute romance
    And hashish dreams.

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  • I mainly use my iPhone for playing games, it’s the best gaming machine ever imo.

  • Loved your book. I can tell you have been doing this for a while and know what you are doing. Many of the points were common sense, but many I would have never thought of. You saved me a lot of money.