This is the blog of Ant Miller, senior research manager and dilettante geek at large at the BBC.
I wail moan and cuss about the challenges and fun to be found here.
These are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Or anyone else here for that matter.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

5 things I'm thinking about

Alice, Matt , Ian and many other super lovely clever people have done this, so just to prove to myself I qualify as the same species, I'm going to try too:

1. The Broadcast/ IP distribution thing is coming to a head in terms of the legal underpinnings of the business models people assume will support their day to day life. After years of denial, it's as if the crew of the Titanic have decided their best bet is to leap onto the iceberg and try and charge a ticket price to the passengers scrambling after them. It's not clear if it's gong to work- some might argue that it's worked in music, but I doubt that's the case. If the last defender of the music industry is the scarily wizzened aging punk you last saw on Cheggers Plays Pop 30 years ago in a grubby parka, I'd suggest the gig is up. Apple are the new music behemoths, and in case anyone has missed it, they're not paying the record industry much.
In broadcast the sticks on hills will soon be the second fiddle in video distribution. They'll be filling homes with the mass market low margin filler, and, true, the live events will be best delivered over that route, but all this will come via an experience defined in the main by interfaces entirely divorced from any concept of 'schedule'.
In this media experience, the way we pay for content (and we all do, directly or otherwise) will need a whole new approach. I just hope the license fee stays as part of it.

2. (Hope this one is shorter!) Getting fast broadband (50Mbps upwards) into homes, all homes, and for that matter all businesses, is tricky. Not a 'scientifically hard problem' to be sure. In fact it's technically trivial. However, getting the mishmash of commercial interests, co-ops and public efforts large and small to pull together the way the ConDem coalition want it to, even with their really rather feeble USC targets, is a decidedly non-trivial thing. The last few years of the Labour governments attempts at this were pretty poor, and it seems the new bunch are picking up where that lot left off, and I do worry that this represents a real missed opportunity to start this effort afresh.
I've heard various worrying rumours and skuttlebutt about different parties involved- some genuinely worrying, some probably irrelevant. There are real problems with the 'incumbents' and their historical practices (most probably not even their fault). Getting it to work, and work well, and affordably for a Britain that seems likely to be in for a protracted belt tightening period will need proper visionary leadership, the like of which we have yet to see.

3. I hope the BBC doesn't leave the developer community behind. Shouldn't say too much on this, as it's not yet set in stone, but if changes to the way we talk to developers come about I truly hope they represent a growth and an improvement.

4. Is it possible to design very long period predictable orbits for artificial comets of the solar system, and in particular the inner planets? The last year or so has shown some fascinating papers published looking at very long term stability in orbital dynamics of the inner solar system, and there's a real possibility that focused research in this area could turn up some excellent results, of real use to one of the projects I'm working on.

5. Will the iPad make tablets cool? Generally I mean. I am so not a fan boy, but I have to acknowledge that battery life, screen resolution, apps availability, non-multitasking, dammit even the heft of the bloody thing make, altogether, for an exceptionally pleasant experience. My worry is that nobody else will have the guts to go for quality the way that Jobs has, and without that dedication to the pleasure of the haptic experience, other tablets will just seem flat (oops haha). If nobody else makes tablets work then Apple win. Big.
If Android phones are the model Google are looking at as the way they're gonna do Chrome on tablets they are lost- I have the HTC HD2 (I know win6.5 borkage all the way- had to reboot by taking the battery out TWICE today) and that's about as nice a piece of hardware as HTC can make. As hardware it is ace, but HTC only made it as nice as they wanted to. OK so MS made them stick a Win button on it (oh the fucking irony- it's the damned opposite of win), but how may 'driod phones have you played with where the hardware wasn't quite perfectly matched to the OS, in terms of interface feel and affordance. It'll be pretty much all of them by the way, 'cept maybe the G1, the Droid, and the Nexus. Maybe.
My point, and I do have one, is that Apple have been betting on quality. These are big bets, and with a few wobbles they have paid off, but they are narrow bets. Everyone else is spreading, and they may, on balance, do ok, but I honestly think that with the iPad, Apple have upped the ante to the point where everyone else has folded. Arse.

Ok, that's it. Wasn't too hard. Should blog more often.

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