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

2 thoughts on “Why commuters will love Apple’s tiny videos

  1. “A bit curious, isn’t it, that in this modern age you don’t have a video transmission device”

    Er, yes, I do. My Sony Ericsson mobile phone, which is at least two years old, has the facility for video calls. I’ve had at least two phones before that which could do it – so that’s video calls available since about 2005.

    Of course, this may be a UK thing (or any country with decent 3G), but you don’t need fancy devices. Loads of mobiles have had the facility. But people don’t use it.

    The interesting question is whether Apple will introduce video calling onto the iPhone. I’m guessing AT&T can’t countenance the idea, given how badly it does with pure data right now, and that’s not even time-sensitive.

    So the problem is not so much in us; it’s in the networks, and whether we need video to work remotely. Loads of people don’t; they manage their remote life fine.

    But it’s not the absence of video calling that’s the problem – because it’s not absent.

  2. That’s a good point, Charles, and yes the U.S. is behind the curve thanks to our abysmal and conflicting wireless standards. I amended the bit about the same time as your comment to note Europe does have phones with two-way video.

    I still feel the utility of remote video has not been tapped by the majority of the population. Tablets seem like a better looking glass. We’ll see. Thanks.

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