Apple’s launch of the iPad has a chance to do more than just launch a new eReader, the iPad might just create a new category of computing, between mobile and work – Couch Computing. And this could have a big impact on a lot of different areas, from your thermostat to Dora the Explorer to Twitter.
It is a fairly regular occurrence at our house, sitting in front of the TV, each with our laptops. Even my kids have their netbooks out from time to time, shifting attention between the computer and the TV. It fits perfectly in our multi-tasking world. But why would the iPad make things so different?
During the final American Idol, almost 100 million votes were cast via text and phone. This user input is an important aspect to the success of the show. People loved being involved in the outcome. The iPad allows for much more than simply choosing between Adam Lambert or Kris Allen. Imagine an American Idol app where you can attempt to sway voting through on screen comments with other viewers, compete in sponsor puzzles to earn more votes or unlock supplemental content.
Dirk the Daring was the hero in the laser-disc driven arcade game, Dragon’s Lair. You played the game by doing certain actions via your joystick, and resultant animated video would be played from the laser disc. It offered gameplay in a visual environment not possible in other games of the time and was a big success.
Imagine if Nickelodeon created an iPad app that would allow children to play along with the show, solving puzzles similar to what Dora was doing in the show. Take it a step further, and imagine if children could affect what Dora does in the show, realtime. Through the shared efforts of the participants, the show progresses. Children don’t just have the show on in the background, kids are actively engaged with the show.
Interactive TV has been discussed for years, but it fails under the fundamental issue of interaction on the big screen. TV is a group viewing activity, and as anyone knows who lives with a remote hog, individual control over the tube is annoying at best. Verizon connected Facebook and Twitter into their Fios DVR, but it is painful to use and even more painful to sit through someone else using.
Imagine if you could interact with the show without annoying others in the room. Chat with your friends, share links and do instant polls on what is going to happen next. All of this could happen with an app on the iPad without annoying others in the room. Couch computing could rebuild the socialization which Robert Putnam asserted TV destroyed in his book ‘Bowling Alone’.
Product placement is the necessary evil of the entertainment industry, since we all fast forward through the commercials, the products are moving into the content. A network could create an iPad app that allows people to select, learn about and even purchase products in the show. Like the jeans that Lisbon is wearing in The Mentalist, purchase them while watching the show. Want to know what workout routine Mark Valley used to get ready for Human Target? There’s an app for that.
My neighbor will sometimes call me and simply say ‘Tommy Boy Channel 714.’ With hundreds of channels coming into the home, getting through the programming guide can take half an hour. Like Tivo’s recommendation engine, you can use an iPad app to see what your Facebook friends are watching right now. Put that in a tag cloud and see what most are watching.
The missing piece to many connected house concepts is the user interface device. Few are going to pay $300 for a visual interface to a $200 thermostat. Since the iPad stays in the house, it can act as the visual interface to many devices. And the gateway. Maybe the iPad uses weather forecasts, power utility price guides and your previous bills to inform your thermostat. And since this is not simply the thermostat input device, many device manufacturers can roll out devices that are iPad aware.
Of course mobile computing isn’t new. Laptops have been parked on laps in front of TVs for years. First, Laptops are primarily work machines. While designated portable, they have a 2 hour battery life, get hot on your lap and are usually controlled by an sysadmin who controls what gets put on the device.
Apple’s iTunes store has created a proven gateway for publishers to distribute and get paid for simple apps. The ColorSplash app for the iPhone allows users to make their own color-enhanced photos for $1.99. The only desktop option for that is Photoshop at $650. Granted Photoshop does tons more, but who needs that.
The iPad was met with a lot of disappointment over what it didn’t do. I think Apple’s forced simplicity of the device will open it up to a whole new world of what a simple tablet device can do.
The iPad wasn’t the beginning and will not be the last word of tablet computing, but I think Apple’s approach has an opportunity to take computing to the couch.