Category Archives: Commuters

Why commuters will love Apple’s tiny videos

When we suggested in a BusinessWeek column that Apple’s emerging tablet device could encourage commuters to begin working from home, UK Guardian tech editor Charles Arthur pushed back. “No, I’m not really seeing how the iTablet makes telecommutes happen more than a laptop and a second monitor, but anyway…” he wrote. Perhaps. But it’s worth reviewing that idea, since what most people miss is we have just entered the uncharted waters of a new two-way video age.

It’s 2010. Can you guess what device you’re missing?

Quick, grab your gadget and make a video call. What? You can’t do that from the subway stop or corner deli? A bit curious, isn’t it, that in this modern age you don’t have a video transmission device (unless you like walking around with a laptop flipped open near a WiFi hot spot).

That will change this year. Video has been with us for more than a century in some form or another, but it’s only been two years since two-way video began appearing on most laptops — and just four months since Apple stuck a video camera on iPods as small as sticks of gum. Society still has no cheap, simple, small, portable device that you can carry easily that captures and shares video via wireless (well, at least in the U.S.; in parts of Europe they can video-dial Jesus). The iTablet may be that device, since analysts predict it will hold a webcam; if not, another gadget will be. As sure as you can say telephones-never-really-needed-cameras, you better believe the version creep of manufacturers trying to outsell each other will soon put tiny webcams and video screens in most handheld portable electronics.

It’s 2010. Do you still hate your commute?

As technology rushes to enable you to video-conference loved ones in Hawaii from any location, society also has a sore point that no market tool has adequately addressed: Your daily commute. In the United States, a land with 3.9 million miles of highways, 9 in 10 U.S. workers get to their employment via car, and they spend a collective 3.7 billion hours each year stuck in traffic. One of the fastest trends in the U.S. is workers leaving prior to 6 a.m. to beat the morning rush; in 2007 McDonald’s announced it would open 75% of its U.S. restaurants at 5 a.m. to help those bleary-eyed souls make it there with coffee.

The psychology of why people feel they must work together probably goes back to ancient clans instinctively huddling for shelter, or the fact most communication is nonverbal … but what if you could really see other people easily on screens, from anywhere, at any time? What if your visual community was anyone you can reach with a click?

Cheap, two-way portable video is finally coming. Travel is expensive, wastes time and stresses both individuals and the society that bears its energy, infrastructure and pollution costs. Hey. You connect the dots.

Image: Christian Spinelli

Mumsy, tonight let’s do dinner in Tokyo

Sir Richard Branson and X Prize winner Burt Rutan unveiled the world’s first consumer spaceship yesterday. The craft will fly to 50,000 feet, giving all passengers a nice view, and then a select group in the central rocket pod will untether and blast higher to 60 miles, where the sky turns inky black. Branson says construction is 70% complete and testing is scheduled for 2008.

Wealthy tourists have already booked flights at $200k a pop and undergone high-G stress testing to make sure their limbs won’t fly off. If New York and Tokyo become just a few hours apart, the world may learn to speak with one accent.

(Overview at Machinist. Geek details here.)

Back when banner ads had no clicks

Just when we’re feeling blue about Apple not releasing a 3G iPhone, we catch images like the one above of a sick migrant child worker in Yakima Valley, Wash., in 1939. This weekend Andy points us to Shorpy, a brilliant compilation of 100 years of American photography. The poverty and austerity of the earlier generations provide striking perspective on our silly gadgets today.

Many images show a country pushed to the roads. The dust bowl and depression of the 1930s set America in motion. People lived in tents; entire families climbed into rickety railcars; autos out-raced dust storms.

And the era created outdoor advertising — a plethora of postings for Chesterfield, Coca-Cola, Burma-Shave, trying to catch people as they approached country stores. In some ways, it was a golden era of outdoor, before the interstate highway system of the 1950s took people away from villages and made small signs impractical.

Strange thing is, all the little signs of the 1930s remind us of today’s banner ads trying to catch eyes on the internet. New highway. New store fronts. Same tactics.

Why don’t states sell ads on license plates?

Geez, you’d think this would be a no-brainer. With almost 4 million miles of highways in the U.S. and people stuck in traffic 3.7 billion hours a year, Coke or Pepsi ads on the back of cars and trucks could have huge impressions. Advertisers could set up networks of commuters, targeting key geographies. State roads are falling apart and bridges are collapsing. Billions of dollars in potential ad revenue could flow in to state coffers, giving us all four-lane highways and better rest stops.

Only if we’re comfortable wearing a brand logo on our rear end.

Enjoy your ride in?

We thought so. NBC Today Show reports this morning that 1 in 8 Americans now leaves for work before 6 a.m. to beat traffic. About 9 in 10 U.S. workers travel by car, creating 3.7 billion hours annually of people stuck in traffic. The Census Bureau reports “extreme commuters” — workers who spend more than 90 minutes driving each way — is the fastest growing group. No wonder outdoor ad spending is up.

Could be worse. Consider Dave Givens of Mariposa, Calif., whom Midas awarded for America’s longest commute. Seems Mr. Givens spends seven hours each day driving 372 miles round trip, which over two and a half years is exactly equal to the distance from the Earth to the moon.

Good news is McDonald’s, noting the trend, now opens 75% of its 16,700 U.S. restaurants by 5 a.m. That’s 12,525 places to grab hash browns with your morning coffee, before you watch the billboards roll by.