Max Dawson – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Best Remote Control $700 Can Buy: First Impressions of the Apple iPad Mon, 05 Apr 2010 17:34:11 +0000 Having spent the better part of the last thirty-six hours leaving a trail of fingerprints over the surface of my iPad, I can report with confidence that Apple’s long-awaited tablet is a completely redundant and utterly unnecessary piece of technology. There’s little that the iPad can do that a decent laptop or smart phone cannot. By contrast, there is a long list of functions that less expensive devices can carry out with ease (such as taking photos, recording videos, or accessing Flash content on the Web) that presently the iPad cannot. The iPad is a spectacularly limited device, defined less by what it is and does than by what it isn’t and can’t do. Thankfully, it only cost me $699 (plus tax) to confirm for myself that the iPad’s naysayers were on to something when they questioned the utility of a black-boxed, closed-source mobile computer that functions only within the confines of a tightly-controlled walled garden.

That said, don’t for a second think that I’m even considering taking advantage of Apple’s 14-day return policy. For although there’s a lot that my iPad can’t do, there are a few things that it does very well. By far the iPad’s greatest virtue is its form. It’s as if it had been designed specifically to be used in places and situations where laptops can be used only awkwardly, for example, in bed. Laptops are a horrible fit for the bedroom – they can be scalding hot, they fill darkened rooms with light, and they require that you sit up while using them. None of this is the case with the iPad. Its shape is more like a book than a laptop, and it does not overheat. Moreover, there’s an external button that prevents the screen orientation from rotating automatically, allowing for hassle-free viewing and surfing in the prone position. If I didn’t know better, I might just think that Apple developed the iPad solely to solve the pressing dilemma of how to transform the bedroom into a site where members of the digerati may maintain maximum productivity and uninterrupted connectivity, all without waking up their significant others. (Fittingly, the iPad’s “performance” in the bedroom has factored prominently in early reviews of the device. In a series of tweets, a swooning David Carr of the New York Times raved about using the “sexy” iPad in bed, only later to suffer some good-natured ribbing for his pillow talk at the hands of Gawker.)

The iPod’s biggest selling point is not that it will replace your laptop, but that its the furthest thing from a laptop. Even so, the better acquainted I become with my iPad, the more convinced I become that the laptop isn’t necessarily the best point of reference for trying to figure out what the iPad is (or isn’t). I’d suggest a more relevant comparison remains to be made with the remote control. The iPad is a colossally expensive and yet delightfully satisfying remote control that will find its niche as an interface connecting users with content residing on more full-featured devices. This isn’t just another way of saying that it will factor prominently in the cloud computing “revolution.” Rather, I’d suggest that, like the remote control, the iPad’s “killer app” very well may be television.

Already I’m using my iPad to control my television set (via an app that augments my TiVo remote control with a full QWERTY keyboard); to watch television programs (via Netflix’s and ABC’s free streaming video apps); and to talk about television via Facebook and Twitter. Granted, prior to April 3 I did all of the same things on my laptop. If the iPad is to become the next iPhone (as opposed to the next Apple TV), it will be because it somehow enhances an experience that a growing number of viewers already are well acquainted with: that of dividing their attention between their television sets and their laptops.

So far, my sense is that the iPad enhances this experience by taking something away from it – namely, the laptop. Personally, I’ve always had mixed feelings about the laptop in the living room. Simply put, watching television with my MacBook in my lap has always felt a little bit like work: the posture and the gestures it involves make me feel as if I’m still at my desk writing about television as opposed to on my couch tweeting about it. The iPad, on the other hand, is far less obtrusive, and far more flexible. I can sprawl out with it on the couch without fear of receiving third degree burns. I can take it with me in the kitchen (or, full disclosure, the bathroom) during commercial breaks. Perhaps best of all, there’s no mistaking what I do on the iPad with what I do on the MacBook: the former’s multitouch interface and single-task architecture is different enough from the latter’s graphical user interface to trick me into feeling as if there actually remains some semblance of a division between my labor and my leisure. And so after only two nights in my home my iPad has earned itself a place of pride on the coffee table, where it sits right next to all the other remote controls.


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Watching Twitter on TV Thu, 25 Feb 2010 18:01:06 +0000 Ever since the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) closed its doors in early January the gadget press has been nearly unanimous in identifying 3DTV as television’s “next big thing.” But lost in all the hype surrounding 3D is a potentially far more exciting development: the inclusion of web widgets into television sets’ operating systems. Widgets are the mini-apps that bring weather forecasts to our computer desktops and display real-time news headlines and stock tickers on blogs. With the introduction of web-connected television sets with built-in widgets, the same functionality comes to television, so that instead of changing the channel during an insufferably slow segment of an American Idol elimination show, you’ll instead be able to hit a button on your remote to bring up your Gmail inbox or to play a quick game of Lexulous. In other words, you’ll do what a growing number of viewers already do on laptops, only without having to shift your attention away from your television set to do so.

Compared to 3D, widgets promise to have a much more immediate and meaningful impact on television’s programming, audiences, and economics. For while few current programs would benefit from presentation in 3D – in fact, more than a few would actually suffer, many shows will become vastly more appealing when overlaid with dynamic web content. I first realized this when I started watching television with some of my colleagues at other universities and colleges. Mind you, I wasn’t actually in the same room with them at the time. In fact, technically speaking I’ve never “met” a number of these people. Rather, when I say that I’ve been “watching television with my colleagues,” what I really mean is that I’ve been following – and responding to – their Twitter updates as we watch television on our own.

Each night between 8 and 11 pm EST, Twitter lights up with television-related chatter, making my TweetDeck “All Friends” column look like a meeting of the SCMS TV Studies Special Interest Group. These nightly discussions have brought media studies professors and students into closer contact with some of the nation’s smartest television critics, including The Onion’s Todd VanDerWerff and the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan, as well as the thousands of fans who provide running commentary on their own viewing via Twitter. Throughout the night links are exchanged and retweeted, plot twists are dissected, evictions are second guessed, and past and present NBC executives are excoriated, all in 140-character bursts. By the time the 11 pm local news has begun, tomorrow’s columns or blog posts (or next year’s SCMS panels) have already started to take shape.

It makes sense that Twitter widgets, along with other social networking apps, promise to be major selling points for the new web-connected televisions, in so far as television, along with celebrity death rumors, already seems to be Twitter’s main topic of discussion. The launch of these widgets is also in keeping with ongoing efforts by television networks to incorporate real-time text-based viewer feedback into their own programming. The advantage of Twitter widgets over past programming gimmicks is that widgets enable us, the viewers, to select the feeds that will be overlaid on our screens, as opposed to leaving it to the network to make these selections for us. So while we still can’t use digital technologies to customize the television programs we watch, we can at least use them to chose who we watch with. The outcome, I would wager, is no less satisfying.

Having pretty much given up on “live” (that is, not time-shifted) television when I first got a TiVo in 2004, I now find myself motivated to tune in on schedule by the prospect of participating in these nightly Twitter sessions. Even more surprising, on a couple of occasions I’ve actually turned on my set to check out a program that I thought I had absolutely no interest in to see what’s making “Vienna” or “Merle” or some other meaningless-to-me term grow larger in the TwitScoop tag cloud. Mark Andrejevic has argued that within the contemporary media mix television programs are but “the raw material to which value is added” by the individuals who analyze, debate, and ridicule them online. The new web-connected, widget-equipped sets acknowledge as much, affording what are ostensibly secondary forms of televisual discourse a place of prominence on the television screen. By doing so, these new technologies make a compelling case for the old argument that television’s real attraction is not its programs, but the discussions they inspire.


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