Shapes Of Things

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To absolutely no surprise, the people I know are enamored of Google Glass. The world of sensor-driven big data is sure to come, just as apps have supplanted sites as the metaphor with which we frame our lives. As one who replaced music with computers, I am eager for the next phase.

But while Glass forges ahead in mind share, my thoughts slide to the elegant footnote that is increasingly absorbing my interest. The iPad mini, a device I only bought because I couldn’t quite rule out something lurking there, so subtle that I can really only see it in the absence of something. As I’ve lived with this strange step-child, that something is taking shape, becoming visible and tangible.

Just as Glass captures our imagination, the mini absorbs our reality. Always present, just big enough to transfer much of the iPhone’s work load, barely big enough to suck the Retina iPad dry, and just waiting to use AirPlay to push toward the big screen for media. Waiting not for the tech but the politics of the death of the broadcast windowing business and the rise of streaming to sort itself out.

With so many cycles opting for the mini, our behavior is shifting. This is bigger than big data, because the compressed signal of behavior moves ahead of the raw data in identifying the underlying sentiment. It’s not analysis, it’s the feel in musical terms. It’s that rush we felt the first time, and every time, we heard the Stones’ Last Time. It’s not the riff, although that was plenty for starters. It wasn’t the lyric either. It wasn’t any of the parts but for sure it just felt good.

There’s some of that in the Glass video, too – the moments where you can extrapolate what will happen when we can dive into an event and feel it because so many people are running it that we can cut to just the right person at just the right angle both in image and sound. Groups will form like the Beatles in Hamburg where the band got so tight they just simply started making music greater than the sum of its parts.

When people start finding the value, the joy, in working together, now that is something big. Right now, we can’t quite see it, but these new tools are like the electric guitar, the Arriflex in movies, Netflix in the changing of the guard. Each of them produced a state of being where magic could happen. Only now, years later, can I hear what the British musicians heard when they heard the blues masters. It was there all the time, I just didn’t listen. Lightweight cameras birthed the French New Wave, freeing Truffaut and Godard to deconstruct the studio system into its essential elements of story and naturalism.

We don’t yet see Netflix for what it is, intuiting that ethereal something but getting lost in irrelevant cord cutting and cartel stonewalling. But here it is: Just like the Beatles and their compatriots dismantled the existing music business and took over both the means of production and then distribution, so too will the next wave take over this live-streaming cloud-based network and produce live push notification-driven events owned and created by the artists themselves.

You can begin to feel the power of this moment with the mini. It’s small enough to always be there, big enough to get work and research done, Bluetooth-enabled to add a keyboard as I’m doing right now to write this, enough battery to manage notifications, news, Spotify, Chatter, AirPlay, everything. It’s the hub, and Glass will work with it because it needs to. When Jobs said he’d cracked the code, I believed it. It wasn’t bravado; he just ran out of time. And when I finally settled into the mini, I began to see how.

The mini is hard to write to. It may be because I’m sick of the tricks, or the usual kerfuffles, or whatever. But the mini reeks of just enough, no fluff. What is annoying and dumbed down on the Retina, like Pages, is plenty good enough with the keyboard. I don’t know what will happen with the Logitech mini keyboard, if MG is to be believed that it may be too small. But if I can make it work, it will be the first non-Apple Smart Cover I’ve bought. Already I can see the Bluetooth rules engine choosing keyboards based on location, priority, and all those intangibles that govern the studio recording process. How far behind is the atomization of the MacBook Air via the Bluetooth console?

The mini turns my iPhone into the Pebble, at least until or unless Apple jumps in. With notifications turned on, Twitter and increasingly Facebook are draining the battery and pushing me even more toward the mini. And it’s made FaceTime an increasingly valuable choice where the Retina is too big and way too heavy. Glass may move in here as well as a Bluetooth mini accessory. They’ll need to spend significant search bucks to subsidize Glass or risk being beaten by Apple on price.

Meanwhile event television is testing the streaming waters as the Mini melds controller, point of sale terminal, and notification multiplexing. Broadcast and cable politics mandate blocking of Netflix over AirPlay for the moment, but when I can’t watch Episode 4 and whatever of House of Cards through Apple TV, I opt for the mini and out of Showtime or NBC. The one thing I have a finite amount of is viewing time, and the more Netflix wins in that arena, the more pressure is on the hotel to participate via AirPlay and get a cut. Watch for the weaker news channels like MSNBC cracking the code first.

I spent the weekend in a hotel in New York hacking into HDMI2 with the mini and a new Apple TV. The more I butted up against the roadblocks, the more I realized how Apple is partnering with companies like Netflix and Spotify rather than fighting. Being on HDMI2 made it difficult to watch shows on the hotel broadcast channels, but I could Slingbox in to California and watch on three hours later or Comcast on demand or buy on iTunes the next day. I could listen to three tracks off Boz Scaggs’ new record on Spotify and then buy it on iTunes for the full album.

The network fare suffers greatly when matched against House of Cards or the relentless advance of time-shifting. I’ve stopped recording Glee because I know it will be on Netflix when the season’s over, and besides how can it compete against a steady stream of 13 week-seasons from the streamers. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Downton Abbey, House of Cards II, these things are stacked up over Gotham in relentless fashion. Just as the Beatles moved the record business from singles to albums and went to yearly production and release patterns, these binge-streaming series are wiping out the weakened networks. Unless they buy in like AT&T did with the iPhone.

Sure, there’s a second screen these days. But it’s not the one you might think. The second screen is the TV, where the decaying rules remain in force as network comedies atrophy and the fall season is rife with cancellation. The first screen is the mini, managing the push notification appointment calendar and relationships of the binge viewers as they kibitz, joke, and narrate the stream economy.