The trend towards podcasts and "video articles" and other media broadcast over IP seems to continue unabated, but I have lots of problems with them. I suppose in the strictest sense I have the time, but I don't consider most of my information consumption to be that single tasking.
In the car, I'd rather listen to NPR or talk to Alison, and mostly I am annoyed by the low information density and linear, single-layer nature of all broadcast-like media. With text, I can skim, I can read at my own speed, I can stop and dive into something, I can back up and read it again, I can even copy text for later or for someone else (or quote it in a blog entry). Even reading books, I'll stop and search on the computer (or my phone) for relevant information, and send emails to friends about items I just found. Hypermedia can make me even happier, with deep dives into related topics by following a link to a wholly other article (and if not provided, just do a search).
With audio or video, I have to go at the broadcaster's speed, and live with their detail level. I cannot follow links, and cannot even search really, unless I stop and go somewhere else. Yes, I do this even with TV (PVRs are wonderful), but there is a discontinuity to the consumption process that is unavoidable. At TV-watching-time, that tends to be my focus activity. When focusing on other things, it can be difficult to follow a narrative with arbitrary interruptions.
Mobile usage of the same media just exemplify, and amplify, the problems I encounter on the desktop computer. The first thing that made me start using any internet, nav or multimedia features on my mobile was multithreading. Because I can hardly get thru a song, or look up something on a map without getting a call or text, or needing to look something up in another program.
But aside from (often, and only recently) being multi-taskers, mobiles are not really designed well for interruptability. Only one device I have used really has a decent system of pausing media when a call comes in, and resuming when it's done. But that only works for the built-in applications, and it's very binary; the audio stops, then restarts immediately.
In our ideal world, the mobile is not just a tiny little computer/camera/mp3-player/tv, but is designed to take advantage of it's unique attributes, and avoid it's pitfalls. Design for glancing and interruptability is one of these key factors. So what do I see as a solution to my vague griping?
- Deeper, broader content. Especially, better linking. Far too much mobile content is a dead-end, for no good reason. Offer links to other parts of the site or service, or to other information sources entirely. Think outside the box as far as what other content can mean; why does your music player not have the ability to get lyrics from the internet?
- Always offer multiple versions of content. If there is a video about a product, transcribe it. A few services do this, but mostly on the desktop web; NPR has close to perfect transcripts of every article on every show, posted fairly soon after broadcast.
- Always tell the user what they are about to view, and offer those options. I am never happy when browsing around a website and following a text link loads a "video article," with no text version even as an option.
- Use better software. There are some really neat ways of viewing content that already exist (hence, its short term, since nothing needs to be developed), but are inexplicably niche products. The FileMagnet, with it's perfectly-tuned tilt-for-scroll control, is perhaps the first reader I have ever used that felt totally natural. There is a long ways to go yet on input and output technologies, but at least the state of the art could be employed.
- Allow all applications to be aware of device features, then they could all react appropriately to incoming calls, or any use of other applications. This used to be totally pie-in-the-sky since no one wanted to play nicely, but Bondi might help get us all there.
- Hypermedia outside of text. How would you like to be able to "click" on an audio phrase, or listen to the rest of that music track in the background of news story?
- Dual-channel communications. Accompany audio/video with text content, which can contain links and even additional visualizations of content. This seems the ideal mobile use pattern for any content. Look up the weather, and you hear a talking-head weather report while a chart displays on the screen. Use whichever you like. Aside from my convenience, think of the appeal to low-literacy communities (and related: youth, aged, low-vision...).
- Monetize it. Without a good financial reason for existing, nothing will happen on a large scale. I think, however, that the above capabilities for multi-channel communications or audio/video hypermedia have a lot of opportunities for promotion, cross-selling, stickiness, advertising. Just consider TV commercials: why can't you click to get more info about a product, to call the number on screen, or set up to record the show they are advertising? No matter how appealing something is, friction kills clickthrough and sales.