Opinion: Why Apple's iPad is more important than television

By Jonny Evans

"Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it." -- Marshall McLuhan.

In a predictable pattern, demand for Apple's [AAPL] iPad is already "off the charts". That's great for the company, but I think the iPad will also be remembered for having as seismic a cultural impact as the television set did when it was introduced, generating new creative industries.

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Open up

"Have you been drinking that Apple Kool-Aid again, Jonny?" I can hear some regular readers ask. Sorry, no I haven't. I prefer filter coffee this side of the day, and while what I'm thinking might be precipitated by the synapse-igniting nature of that warm, black fluid, I see portents for hitherto unimaginable creative experiences.

Consumers get it. As Sir Jony Ive told the Evening Standard: "Consumers are incredibly discerning, they sense where there has been great care in the design, and when there is cynicism and greed. We've found that really encouraging."

This is an opportunity to 'Think Different' about creativity. Apple now has a mobile ecosystem that's second to none and this virtual world offers new opportunities for creative expressions spanning all the disciplines of the liberal arts.

This is important because it means Apple is potentially bigger than television. Have you read any television schedules lately? Awful, aren't they?

[ABOVE: In this video, artist David Hockney explains his exhibition of iPad-created art, currently being held at the Royal Academy.]

Play with the possible

There's already plenty of artistic users exploring Apple devices: Bjork, David Byrne, David Hockney, Trent Reznor and more. All of these are attempting to extend the barriers of Apple devices in the post-PC, post-McLuhan age.

GarageBand, iPhoto, iMovie and many other creative apps show the artistic possibilities of the iPad as a creative device, but I’m looking beyond that to its place as a portal for unimagined new creative experiences. Experiences which you can also beam to a television using AirPlay.

Take comics. These are changing. They're going to become even more interesting than before. They're about to spear-head new ideas in interactive experience.

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Augmenting the arts

Marvel introduced new digital comic formats at SWSX this week. iPads, iOS (and some Android devices) will get features beyond the page of the comic they're reading on their device thanks to a technology called Marvel AR that will launch with the release Avengers vs. X-Men #1 Infinite next month.

What's this do? "When pointed at a compatible comic, the app will server up creator commentary videos, extra art and interactive 3D models of Earth's greatest heroes," Engadget explains.

Dan Buckley. Publisher & President of the Print, Animation & Digital Divisions, Marvel Worldwide said in a release: "We see print and digital product as complementary, not competitive -- so we've made sure that not only do we have new digital content but also digital products that enhance the printed page."

So how is this potentially bigger than television?

[ABOVE: Who can recall the wildly popular Ocarina app for iPhone? This allows you to see what other users are playing in real time all across the world. A hint at the power of location-aware interactivity in future artistic expression.]

Comics aren't just for laughs

You might argue that comics seems a strange place to look for evidence of this. You have to understand that that industry, one of the last bastions for free thinkers, artists and geeks within our current horribly homogenized age, is used to being marginalized and seen as outside of the mainstream.

Even though comics are mainstream.

Here's what Marvel (granted a huge corporation and not always on every comic author's approved list) has to say: "We call these Marvel Infinite Comics because the storytelling possibilities are, frankly, infinite. Writers and artists now have a whole host of new tools at their disposal to redefine the comic book medium."

These tools hint at new possibilities for truly interactive new forms of cultural expression in other fields.

[ABOVE: A nice augmented sculpture idea by Pablo Valbuena -- now imagine augmented art on every corner.]

Towards new creative expression

Think about it. Working together across different disciplines, photographers, video producers, musicians, sculptors, philosophers, and others can begin to build new entertainment experiences.

The sensors included within these mobile devices open new opportunities for creative arts. Ambient light detectors, dual microphones, gyroscopes -- these things are opportunities for artists and developers to find uses for tech which go beyond the manufacturer's intentions.

Introduce location-awareness and augmented reality support to the new digital tool kit and it isn't hard to imagine new forms of creative expression, such as:

-- Invisible graffiti on street corners, visible using your iPad or smartphone and activated once in range of an NFC device.

-- Fantasy or warfare simulations played by large groups within the urban environment, games in which all the action is seen vie AI goggles by participants who seem otherwise normal to the outside world. No one else knows that inside they might be Vogel the Orc-slayer. Or an Orc.

-- Musical sculptures left in public parks, available only to location-enabled devices as they approach these manifestations.

The MEX Pathway #8 working sessions in May 2011 declared. "The embedded person-to-person communication capabilities of wireless devices make them ideal tools for new forms of creativity reliant on shared interactions between multiple people," the researchers said.

These new creative possibilities could help mass market cultural entertainment move from its current position as a sedentary medium served by television into a truly democratic participative experience accessed via our mobile device.

This is potentially a truly powerful cultural realization of Apple's ever-stated mission to focus its energies at the point at which science and the liberal arts meet. That's why -- potentially, at least -- the iPad will be bigger than television. And that's got to be worth thinking about.

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.        

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