Let’s do this.
I want to talk about the iPad, but I’m going to start by talking about vlogs.
You know: videoblogs!
Rewind to 2005. Maybe your 2005 was different from mine, but I was working at an internet-centric cable TV network, and the world seemed to be saying one thing really loud: The revolution is here. We’ve got cheap cameras and cheap distribution. The era of the indie “web show” has arrived. Let a thousand videoblogs bloom!
Then they didn’t. Not really. Today the gear is even cheaper—HD Flipcams for like twelve bucks, right?—but we’ve got basically three web shows: Rocketboom, Epic Fu, and The Guild. (That’s cruel shorthand; if you are currently producing and/or starring in some other web show, I’m sorry. My argument demands ruthlessness.)
Well, the web happened. YouTube happened. It turns out we weren’t wrong about the tools; we were wrong about the forms. We didn’t get a crisp catalog of indie web shows; we got a sprawling database of disconnected video clips.
Today on the web, on YouTube, a show just sort of dissolves into that database. To avoid that fate, it needs to be buoyed by big media; it needs to surf on the scarcity of TV time. A show needs a marketing budget to insist on its coherence. (Also, Hulu.)
None of this is a bad thing! I love the web-as-database; I love the wacky YouTube ecosystem. It’s like we grew a rainforest overnight.
But the point is, the web kinda hates bounded, holistic work. The web likes bits and pieces, cross-references and recommendations, fragments and tabs. Oh, and the web loves the fact that you’re reading this post in Google Reader.
Hold that thought.
Back in the day, when I was first getting to know my iPhone, I was surprised at how truly un-web-like it was. On the iPhone, you do one thing at a time and that one thing takes up the whole screen. Like nothing on the web, the iPhone is full-bleed.
You know what my favorite iPhone apps are? No joke: it’s stuff like this. Nobody’s made the multimedia manga or living-text novel of my dreams, so I’ve settled for The Wheels on the Bus. But it turns out that some of the stuff they’re doing with these kids’ apps—the way they’re mashing media and interactions together—is really slick.
And now this new device takes the iPhone’s virtues and scales them up—plus, no text messages while you’re reading. So more than anything else, the iPad looks to me like a focus machine. And it looks, therefore, like such an opportunity for storytelling, and for innovation around storytelling. It looks like an opportunity to make the Myst of 2010. (I don’t mean that literally. I only mean: wow, remember Myst? Remember how it was an utterly new kind of thing?)
Apple is great at inventing new devices, but it bums me out that they seem so content to fill those devices with the same same old stuff: TV shows, movies, music, and books. Books… in ePub format?
Apple: you did not invent a magical and revolutionary device so we could read books in ePub format.
Think about what the iPad really is! It’s the greatest canvas for media ever invented. It’s colorful, tactile, powerful, and programmable. It can display literally anything you can imagine; it can add sound and music; and it can feel you touching it. It’s light and (we are led to believe) comfortable in the hands. The Platonic Form of the Perfect Canvas is out there somewhere—it’s probably flexible… and it probably has a camera—but the iPad is, like, a really amazingly good shadow of that form. And this is just the first one!
So, we’re gonna use the Perfect Canvas to… watch TV shows?
Now, connect the dots. For all its power and flexibility, the web is really bad at presenting bounded, holistic work in a focused, immersive way. This is why web shows never worked. The web is bad at containers. The web is bad at frames.
Jeez, if only we had a frame.
So, to finish up: I think the young Hayao Miyazakis and Mark Z. Danielewskis and Edward Goreys of this world ought to be learning Objective-C—or at least making some new friends. Because this new device gives us the power and flexibility to realize a whole new class of crazy vision—and it puts that vision in a frame.
In five years, the coolest stuff on the iPad shouldn’t be Spider-Man 5, Ke$ha’s third album, or the ePub version of Annabel Scheme. If that’s all we’ve got, it will mean that Apple succeeded at inventing a new class of device… but we failed at inventing a new class of content.
In five years, the coolest stuff on the iPad should be… jeez, you know, I think it should be art.