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Pandora and Netflix plan to take over the world:

An informal survey of my home’s device inventory reveals that Pandora is omnipresent. The music service is accessible through my various computers, an iPad, two iPods, an Android phone, and a Blu-ray player.

— Mac Slocum, Pandora’s ubiquitous platform play, via Rick Brannan

Indeed: Pandora is everywhere and Netflix is almost everywhere. My wife listens all day long to Pandora through our Blu-Ray player, and then when I drive home after listening to Pandora on my iPhone in the car, we curl up together and watch streaming Netflix through the same Blu-Ray player. (I didn’t buy the player for those features; they just came bundled in.)

Sometimes we sit on the couch with the iPad to choose a movie and add it to our instant queue, then play it through the Blu-Ray player via the built-in Netflix app.

I never meant to live in the cloud, but here I am.

Nobody knew how the alligators had come to live in the clouds
but there they were, brutishly snarling and snapping
around the feet of the first, courageous citizens to embark,

— Campbell McGrath, “A City in the Clouds”

Without the iPad (or a notebook), the movie-choosing experience on Netflix would be sub-par, because we would be limited by the in-device app to our instant queue and their 75 automatic recommendations in several (randomly generated) categories. That’s why I had previously snorted in derision at this “feature” of my video player. “Vanity of vanities,” I said. “All is vanity.” But ...

at which point it was too late to do anything but smile
and learn to live with them, small concern at a moment
of such significance, in a world of such size and wonderment,
and anyway the alligators felt no urging toward companionship
and soon migrated spraddle-legged and bellowing
to the far outlying cloudlands and were seldom seen again


... in tandem with the iPad, it’s a seamless experience. Last week I sat on the couch and took the Netflix preference survey on the iPad while the others were watching a movie; we didn’t like the recommendations they were coming up with, so I did something about it, then and there, in comfort. Electrons were sent spraying across the ether to bounce off satellites so that the magic machine in my hand could tell another magic machine 10 feet away what it should do to delight me. And it did.

For me, the missing piece of the interface on the DVD player wasn’t missing from the DVD player; it was on another platform altogether. These days, “medicine is magical and magical is art”, as Paul Simon once sang. There really are “lasers in the jungle somewhere”, and they’re streaming music and movies to my house, my car, my phone, and probably my toaster, too.

Looking at it through the design lens: My Netflix experience is seamlessly distributed across multiple platforms and devices, all of which have different capabilities. Looked at from the other direction: Sometimes I simultaneously coordinate activities on two independent devices in order to accomplish a single task. The mind boggles.

My employer is ahead of this curve: Our flagship product comes in PC, Mac, and iPhone/iPad flavors, as well as exposing some features to the web. Our users can start a task at the office on their PC, work on it on their iPhone on the train home, and take it up again on their Mac at home, seamlessly.

Myself, I’ve recently been working on an application which consists not so much in a single program as a bundle of services with user interface that is spread out over a complex matrix of PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, and HTML5 components. And yes, oddly enough, that is the most natural and sensible way to do it. (Let’s hope it’s “all smiles, or mostly.”)

It was a time of solidarity and joy, a golden age
of amazement at their audacity and luck
when the tasks of managing a new life in the stratosphere
were mastered with harmonic grace and wisdom

So far, so good. But later on ...

Their original system of lifts and pulleys had proven naively
inadequate, and now the first of the pipelines was constructed

Just saying: It’s a strange, wonderful, terrifying, amazing new world to be a software designer or developer in. Is your app ready for the stratosphere? Because that’s increasingly where your users are living.

Oct 19, 2010 | Eli Evans | permalink | comment

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