Pity the poor tube. The average U.S. home has at least four televisions — more than the people who reside under the roof. Americans watch on average 5 hours and 9 minutes of live TV each day. And yet this big, broad, blue-light bathing glow that we can’t escape is never commented on as a revolution in communications.
Stand by. Google this week hinted it was dipping its toe in the Internet-to-TV waters with Smart TV, hoping to do with big screens what its Android OS is with mobile: capture a new market. Google is partnering with Sony, Intel and Logitech to launch open-source software that streams TV shows, YouTube or home videos to the big screen in your basement. Such integrated video hasn’t caught on yet because most TVs aren’t built to hook into the web, and “bridge” systems such as Apple TV have limited functionality (and require too many damn wires for the average user to contemplate). That’s about to change — now, more than 1 million TV sets in the U.S. are wired for the Internet, and about 10 million are expected to be in homes by 2011.
The battle for the future of television is getting interesting. Hardware makers such as Sony and Panasonic are also pushing out 3-D televisions, partly because the ginormous files required to render 3-D can’t be jammed easily through cable or Internet pipes — you’ll have to buy an expensive Sony or Panasonic box. (Bonus points: 3-D TVs work by projecting regular TV images, but simply flash the images back and forth from two alternating perspectives rapidly in sync with battery-powered glasses that shutter your left and right eyes in sequence; we’ve seen the illusion and it is startlingly holographic.) The irony is cable companies may get caught between two crushing forces, the ultra-high-def holographic 3-D of Avatar films and the ultra-fuzzy-low-res quality of Internet cat videos. Consumers seem drawn to the extremes; that doesn’t bode well for the ratings of mediocrity in the middle.
Image: Jorge Miente
We were reading a cheerful Bloomberg forecast about the U.S. ad industry being pummeled by recession until 2010 and noticed a banner ad for the Intel “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign. It’s a clever comparison of obnoxious colleagues with obnoxious non-Intel computers.
Problem is, the “That Guy” in the Intel ad is a woman.
We raise this not to suggest Intel is sexist but rather that the English language is still damn awkward when dealing with modern diversity. Anyone who has suffered through a college writing class or AP Stylebook knows the tangles of talking about a hypothetical individual and how he or she needs to do something. Generations of language use have bred iconic sayings, such as “Don’t Be That Guy,” but now the singular subject of course may be a woman, who isn’t a guy at all.
Humans seem to need to tag things simply; Barack Obama is termed black while he is really half African and half Caucasian. Somewhere we read a study that 20% of whites living in the United States have a recent African ancestor. Geneticists have determined that all of humanity was the offspring of a single woman, called Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in what is now Kenya, Ethiopia or Tanzania. If you do the math, today’s diverse humans are all closely related — go back 30 or so generations and you have more great-grandparents than people who lived in the world at the time, meaning we are all each other’s cousins.
Our simple terminology tags must now include multiple variables, recognizing the sensitivities of modern diversity. The unfortunate result, Guy, is ad copy that makes no sense.
The end of Microsoft’s model is nigh. Scott Johnston, product dev guy at Google, announced in Ann Arbor this week that in 2008 Google’s spreadsheets, documents and presentations will work offline. Up to now, Google’s freebie software hasn’t been too appealing to business users because (a) you need a hotlink to the Internet to run the Google applications, and (b) Google’s apps are not compatible with the Excel and Word docs we have by the millions on our hard drives.
Google has solved the Internet problem. Now, if it can make its software able to speak with Word and Excel and PowerPoint docs, we can all convert to a free world. This spells huge trouble for Microsoft, since it undercuts the extremely profitable busopoly that has us all using Office software bound to plastic PC shells. If business apps migrate seamlessly online, Office may go away. This move would also shatter PC manufacturers, since we wouldn’t need to upgrade to faster Intel chips every two years. It’s as if we’ve all been focused on buying better and better car engines, and suddenly Google puts up a free high-speed train right outside our door.
This week, Google made one additional move that signals the closing in on Microsoft. Google is preparing an online data storage service that could replace your hard drive. Forget Intel Inside; soon it will be Google Outside.