The tricky ergonomics of mobile video

At last week’s Apple special event, Steve Jobs gave some reasons why he thinks mobile video is not an attractive proposition right now, and hence not something Apple is going to build into iPods in the near future. Some people think he is wrong. Bill Gates sees video as a key part of his Digital Entertainment Anywhere vision: according to him it’s simply that “video today is sort of where music was… four years ago”. Meanwhile there were reports yesterday of new research suggesting consumers are not exactly gagging for mobile video, compared with music and audio.

Most of the discussion focuses on the scarcity of content for mobile video and small screen size, but I haven’t seen much coverage of the straightforward ergonomic and cultural differences of mobile video and mobile audio:

  • it’s more risky crossing the road, or even walking a busy pavement, with mobile video than audio;
  • video doesn’t work so well when the player is neatly tucked in your inside pocket;
  • a lot of video content is narrative-based, which means the experience is disrupted if you miss even a few seconds because of a distraction — this is less often the case with music;
  • viewing habits and expectations developed on a 26″ screen do not transfer easily to the use of a 6″ screen, while the experience and perceived fidelity of music are pretty similar when you go mobile;
  • much video content does not expect or sustain repeat viewing, whereas music does.

In the long run, mobile video is bound to have applications for must-see sports events and live entertainment, specialist news updates and some business settings (possibly e-learning?). As everyday viewing, though, I’m sceptical whether people will prefer to watch on the move, or wait until they arrive and then plug their player into a ‘proper’ screen.

There are some more links on this and related topics in my digital culture bookmarks.

Update, 13 October 02005: Should I be eating my words in the light of Apple announcing an iPod with video? The day may yet come, but I’m not prepared to do it now. I’m with the Jupiter Research analyst quoted in the BBC news story, who says,

“This is a learning process for Apple. There is no mass market for portable video today and they understand that. That market will exist at some point in the future. It is never a bad idea to start learning about the technology and how consumers want to use video on the go, and start the relationships with the content providers. This isn’t a video device. This is video as a feature on an iPod. When Apple are ready to do video, you will see something more complete and more video-focused.”

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