Why I hate digital media? Part 3

Finally, I’m back to this last installment of this series. Phew! Took awhile, more than 6 months, but I finally got all my thoughts organized. Just in case do check out Part 1 and Part 2 first.
In summary, the last two installments talked about the intangibility of digital media and for digital media to be main stream we need to skip the PC middle man. By skipping the PC middle man we give up the complexities of using the computer and rely on objects to stream line the digital media access thru the internet. Does this however mean if we simplify and streamline the interface, we give up the ability to control our data?
Part 3: Does Ease of use mean a loss of control?
I have been playing a lot Mario Kart DS online recently and all I can say is that I have been collecting a huge number of losses and some 8 year old is laughing is ass off some where else in the world.
But I digress. With the launch of the Nintento DS, this is one of the few products that reflect the start of what people would call “A Post-PC Era”, this product essentially disrupted the market’s approach to accessing the internet. What the Nintendo DS did was it provided internet connectivity and the use of gaming digital media without having the need to go thru a computer of perhaps a “PC middle man”. In this case my reference is connecting directly to a wireless internet router or wireless hotspot.
What is a PC middle man? Currently the majority of products that allow you to access the internet or listen to MP3 or watch divx and avi movies all require you to somehow manage and control the data via a computer and via software programs like iTunes, a keyboard, a mouse, a monitor and wires. I think you get my drift.
Therefore one of the characteristics of such “Post PC Era” Products is the streamlining and simplifying all you use to do on a PC to achieve that digital end goal. From Part 2 we can see that there are internet radios, net surfboards, and certain mp3 players that do all this. The DS and The Mario Kart game also does this, by linking up the game thru a very easy WiFi internet connection model. However functionality is limited because of the hardware. It’s a portable handheld player and thus there is limitation with memory, CPU power, battery life and a couple of buttons as control. Internet game play is very limited. Opponents are selected for you based on your win/loss ratios, and there is no way to talk or interact with your opponents other than racing on the circuit.
Another great example of simplicity trumping control is Apple’s iPod. Together with its iTunes it makes managing your music easy. However if you wanted more control, like say directory management, you are stuck. For example you would not be able to find your music if you connected directly to your iPod. Furthermore and worst still is the perpetual cry I often hear by users is that “my iTunes erased my music on my iPod!”
Such “focused” products are all easy to use, but because of their nature they become very limited in its interaction, and the user actually loses a lot of control of the operating environment. Invariably though if we wanted more control it means we have to deal with greater difficulty. This is the technology paradox of today’s consumer electronics based around some kind of technology convergence. Take the PDA/phones convergence for example, the more stuff you add to a product the more complex and difficult to use.
So how do we balance it all? Will the user want extra control or less? Will all this matter anyway? The key in such a game breaking disruptive product is always the target market, or target user.
I think at the end of the day, I actually believe divergence and task specific products will win the days, and thus I still maintained the DS is a great focused product, as it has been designed for a particular market which is the non-gaming man or women on the street. The main-stream person whose approach to entertainment is just a quick bite without any fuss or the need to setup up tons of wires or having to sign up with some “Live” subscription scheme.
At the end of the day though, something still troubles me. It has been said that the iPod would have been nothing with out iTunes, so does that mean have we become too reliant on the software to do our work? Further evidence can be found in IBM selling off their ThinkPad computers to Lenovo to focus on software development aspect. Companies like Sony depends on software to drive their loss leading PSP platform or their consumer electronics.
What troubles me is something intangible like software makes the vessel, which it sits in, less important in the greater hierarchy of things. Thus here comes the failings of software its intangible. So what if we hypothesized that if the iTunes was found in the new creative Zen, it would still work would it not? If we stretched out minds, would it not be conceivable that eventually iTunes could be imbedded in our heads and it will still work?
This is not right. I feel humans are tangible creatures. We like to touch and hold and feel objects. So could there be a middle ground in products of the future, so that we have everything? We would have products that allow us control but yet easy to use. Products which are flexible yet seamless? A product with an interface that is multi-layered yet provides singular haptic feedback?
I would say a middle ground product that has both software and hardware interfacing and management driven. Perhaps something I would call a Firmware product?
Software + Hardware = Firmware?
Epilogue: Here my fellow reader is the background thinking behind my social entrepreneurship endeavor The Firmwareproject. The project has already kicked-off, and to get the latest updates please refer to my blog series “Crossing the Threshold“.

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