Pretty much from the instant someone figured out how to record audio, people have been asking “how can we make this smaller to take it with you?” Even in the age of radio and the record, people wanted to take their music with them. They put radios in cars, there were pocket radios, lunchbox record players, BoomBoxes, and of course the Walkman put an entire album in your pocket. It has been a constant progression since the first recorded bit of audio to cram more sound in less and less space. So when digital audio players came out, it was basically more of the same.
Now you could fit an entire collection of music in a pocket device, and eventually it got to the point where you could carry more music than you could ever get around to ever to having the time to hear. It became like an insane game of musical Pokemon, trying to get a digital copy of every song you could remember the name of, and still finding you had another few gigs of storage left on your player! It is no real surprise that now every pen, shoe, ,pair of sunglasses or phone is also a digital music player. People have been wanting their entire life to have a never-ending soundtrack since before Frankie and Annette were having their beach parties.
Video, on the other hand, has taken pretty much the opposite path. Since the first TV broadcast, everyone has been asking “how can we make this bigger, and how can we make it look better?” That is why all the industry expectations of a boom in mobile digital video to rival the boom in digital audio are just misguided and bound to disappoint. Portable video devices aren’t anything new.
It wasn’t long after the Walkman that Sony came out with the Watchman, and there have been plenty of other attempts to push this idea as well. The bad news is that aside from the ‘pimped out ride’ market, and the “is there something we can do to shut these screaming kids up” soccer-mom minivan market, there has never been much interest in video on the go. In fact, most people just care about how big, not small, they can make their video.
The reason for this is really pretty simple; the video viewing experience is fundamentally different from the audio listening experience. Music, and listening in general, is something that doesn’t take a lot of concentration. We are wired to be able to tune in and out of different sounds as we need to. Our brains are not the wired the same way when it comes to our eyes.
When we are watching something, that is the center of attention of our entire brains, as any wife trying to hold a conversation on Superbowl Sunday can tell you! Where your eyes go is where the focus of your attention goes. As such, watching video as you walk down the street, drive in your car, sit at your desk at work, or do your homework is at best counterproductive, and at worst dangerous. Also, unlike reading, video is time-sensitive. If you stop reading a newspaper or web page in the middle of a paragraph, when you come back to it, not much has been lost. The same is not true of video.
Breaking up a video into a bunch of quick 20-second chunks that you keep pausing and restarting throughout the day is pretty much guaranteed to kill even the most phenomenal movie by the most talented director. This is why we tend to reserve our video watching for time we can devote to an engrossing experience with as big a screen as we can find. As long as it is going to take over our entire conscious mind, we want it to be as rewarding as possible.
Sure, there are exceptions to this, like that 15th hour of your flight to Japan, or the 5th hour of waiting in line for that new video game console, but those are the times where self mutilation and lint ball sculpture start to sound like viable entertainment possibilities too. How many of us have those experiences on a weekly basis?