Over the past year or so my Apple product ownership has gone from zero -> four (well maybe 6/7 if you count peripherals). Is this because I am now a Fanboi and will join the queuing masses in the coming months when the iPhone 5 is announced and camp out for days to be the first, yes the first to own it for a nano second. The short answer is no, I’m still not a massive fan in fact when I spent £1500+ on my first Apple product I felt dirty inside and the yorkshireman in me died a bit more. Don’t get me wrong the products are all good, a nice quality, but are still overpriced for what they are. I could have bought 3 decent laptops over the next 5 years for the price of the Macbook Pro. I bought these devices because as a developer it opened up more doors for me.
So around Christmas time when I was trying to desperately come up with a good gift for my wife I turned to Apple once again and bought an iPad. The device doesn’t fit my needs personally, if I’m surfing the net then I want to do it on a fully functioning laptop. If I’m casually surfing, my phone suffices. For my wife however it did fit the need, I wanted a replacement to my wife’s ageing netbook and the iPad fit the bill.
I also had a sneaking suspicion that my one year old Adam would take to it as well. What I didn’t realise was how much and how easily he would take to it. Bear in mind that we are talking about a baby who cannot yet talk and has the attention span of a fly. He was instantly hooked, and in some ways obsessed with the device. It could keep him amused for minutes (a big thing for him)! He instantly got the interaction and was happily switching between apps and making noises, and turning the screen to flip it to the right side. Amazing really for someone so young.
Fast forward 6 months and whilst he still can’t talk (he’s getting there) his level of understanding of what the iPad plays is astounding. We downloaded apps that make animal noises as he likes animals and the education that the iPad has given him is brilliant. As the following video shows, he can identify animals I wouldn’t have believed possible for a 21 month year old. And he definitely hasn’t memorised the locations, they change between portrait/landscape modes, and there are multiple pages. He literally knows what an Elephant is, looks like and sounds like. The video doesn’t show it be he equally can point out flamingos, camels and crocodiles, not your average farm yard.
I never had anything like this as a kid, as obviously the technology wasn’t there, but today it is. I am filled with a sense of awe of what children today will be achieving in 20-30 years with a foundation such as what is the norm today. Technology is amazing.
Last week was Google’s IO conference where the internet giant got to showcase some of what it has been working on recently. One of the biggest announcements in my opinion was the WebM project which could have far reaching waves in the open web.
The debate over video has been quietly raging for the past year or so with the major browser vendors unable to come to an agreement over which codec to use for open video. The W3C stepped back from this by refusing to specify a codec in the HTML5 spec effectively leaving it up to the browser vendors to decide.
Codec’s are surrounded by complex patent issues and these have lead to a divide in the browser camps. Mozilla and Opera chose to put their support behind Theora, Apple and very recently Microsoft threw their not insignificant weight behind H.264, Google well they supported both. The reasons behind the split decision rested largely around licensing issues for the H.264 codec which Microsoft and Apple already had, indeed they are both party to the MPEG-LA patent holders. Mozilla and Opera couldn’t really compete with this so rested with Theora which they claimed not to have these patent issues, although again this was murky legally.
Google well they hold the trump card in this as they own YouTube, if they supported either then that format would have a huge head start in online video. Up until Google IO they had thrown their YouTube weight behind H.264 as they argued the performance of this format was far superior to Theora.
And of course lets still not forget the incumbent format Flash Video which is pretty much ubiquitous for web video. Flash has also been in the news a lot recently with the war of words between Apple and Adobe, a lot of it centred around flash video.
A bit of a mess really and with the part video will play in the mobile web something really needed to be done. It seems that Google could possibly be the saviour here. They had acquired a company called On2 Technologies which held patent rights to a codec named VP8 which has a far superior quality to Theora. Google’s announcement of open sourcing the Codec under a permissive use license, and the packaging of it under the Matroska container to form the WebM project could quite possibly be the solution to this mess. They have already thrown YouTube behind it with the promise to recode every video in this format! Mozilla and Opera amongst others were part of this announcement so they will support the format. Microsoft quickly followed suit with the announcement they will also support VP8, and Apple, well no word from Apple yet. Adobe have even said the flash video container will support the format.
This announcement was huge and will have far reaching impacts on open video. Of course there are still a few unanswered questions. What will Apple do? Will content providers such as Hulu embrace this given the openness of the video and the technical challenges that brings to their business models? What does this mean for Flash Video and therefore Flash itself in the long run? How long will it be before we can reliably use WebM HTML5 video?
OK I may have got it wrong, there I said it. When Apple announced its latest much anticipated tablet form device or iPad back in January my immediate reaction was that its primary function was flawed. Lack of Flash support in the device practically doomed it to failure, simply because I saw its primary function as a device to surf the net. As almost all video content on the web is available in FLV format browsing the internet would become a frustrating affair.
This device will be revolutionary, really? A PC in tablet form has been around for ages, netbooks are great for surfing the web, what makes this device so revolutionary? Well it could just turn out that this device is revolutionary, a game changer in fact, and no I’m not talking about the device itself. I’m talking about the effect it could have on the open web. It may just give site operators the push they need to embrace open video. Take a look at this list of sites that are now iPad friendly. Sure its not massive in the context of the billions of sites out there but its got some big names on there. Large numbers of videos available via HTML5 <video> tags, beautiful, thats a revolution I can get behind!
Well perhaps not, all these videos will be based on the H.264 codec which isn’t exactly open. Every silver lining has a cloud. However its definitely a step in the right direction, and who knows if H.264 wins the open video format war all browser vendors may unite behind it and the patents that encumber H.264 may not be an issue afterall.
Does this mean I will be rushing out to buy an iPad? No, I still think its an overhyped and overpriced product. I’ll leave the revolution to others out there. Who knows if I ever get my hands on one I could make an informed decision instead of the zero experience I have to go on at the moment.
It does look shiny tho…