Digital Digest

HD Video Conferencing

While PC sales continue to decline, the tablet market is growing at top speed. According to Gartner, “tablet shipments will rise 67.9% year-on-year to 202 million units in 2013”.

Along with this growth, we are also seeing a shift in their price, size, and even the technology behind them. These handy gadgets are now available for as low as $129, but come Fall 2013 could drop to as low as $99. Consumers are now opting for lower-priced basic tablets, and the smaller the better.

Research by DisplaySearch shows that “smaller sized tablet computers are expected to dominate the tablet market in the second half of the year...screen sizes smaller than nine inches will make up 66 per cent of tablet shipments this year in total”. Market researchers are also placing bets on Android overtaking iOS in the tablet market based on what we have seen in the smartphone space.

In response to this growing tablet popularity, CBC/Radio-Canada is in the process of redefining how websites are designed and built to offer a positive experience for people visiting its websites with tablets and other touch devices.

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Wearable Tech, the New Norm

Welcome to the future, where reality is augmented through glasses, TVs are controlled by rings, and music plays from our watches. Wearable technology is all the buzz these days, but is it just a fad or is it here to stay?

As early users share increasingly positive reviews of Google Glass, its potential impacts sound seemingly limitless – from business to healthcare to aviation, this revolutionary technology “could be a game changer in the way we interact with the world around us”.

Apple is also jumping on the wearable technology bandwagon with the introduction of iRing. The iRing will allow the rumoured iTV to achieve better accuracy through motion control. Although there would be benefits derived from the use of this technology, it is not required to be used with the iTV set, so its true value is yet to be seen.

Similarly, smart watches are gaining traction as Sony, Google, Apple, and a number of other key players have been experimenting in this space. For the most part, smart watches work as an extension of your smartphone and allow you to make calls, check emails, look at notifications, take pictures, and even control the volume of your music. They also act as a traditional watch, alarm, and flashlight.

As these gadgets continue to surface, CBC/Radio-Canada needs to monitor this emerging trend for possible future opportunities.

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Fragmentation of Operating Systems – Is it Getting Worse or Better?

Both Google and Apple are releasing new operating systems this fall, Android 5 and iOS 7 respectively.

Historically, a new update to Android has given developers headaches, as new versions of the OS have implemented new features and re-engineered standard features to work better with the hardware; therefore, developers have had to update their apps to work with both an older process for video playback (for instance) and a new process for video playback.

The latest Android version (4.1.x, 4.2.x) has stabilised this problem to a certain degree as, from this point onwards, the newer versions and the older versions (4.1.x and above) should be much more backward compatible.

That being said, with 34% of Android devices on OS 2.3.x, developers still have to make decisions on whether to support features for older devices. CBC/Radio-Canada is no stranger to this and made the decision to support streaming audio for version 4.1.x and above, as the older OS versions do not have the capabilities that the newer one does.

Moreover, it is not just Android that runs into compatibility issues. Although Apple boasts that 93% of devices are on iOS 6, many of its features do not work on the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4. Apple’s iOS 7 will not work on the iPhone 3, and will have some difficulties with Airdrop and camera filters on the iPhone 4S.

In the meantime, CBC/Radio-Canada will need to continue making decisions about which devices and versions of operating systems to support, given the additional investment required to do so.

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Driverless Cars – A New Wave of In-car Entertainment

The concept of driverless cars has been around for decades, but only recently have we seen this idea become a reality. With major automakers including General Motors, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, and Volvo testing driverless car systems, manufacturers and technology companies are predicting that the dawn of this new era is just around the corner. GM is planning the production of mass-market partially-autonomous cars by 2015, Google predicts that we will be riding in robot cars within 5 years, and Forbes foresees self-driving cars taking over by 2040.

With the ability to sense the environment around them and navigate without any human input, driverless cars will drastically change the way we “drive” and the activities that we are able to engage in whilst behind the wheel. As drivers are now able to safely take their focus away from the road, we are likely to see more options for in-car entertainment.

“The car has become a mobile computer packed with new entertainment options” such as video, video games, “internet access and a dizzying array of apps that help drivers avoid traffic jams, find parking spots and locate the nearest coffee shop.” - Bill Vlasic, The New York Times

As in-car entertainment options become increasingly diverse and engaging for the driver, a chance for media companies to creatively promote their content has appeared – whether it be audio, video, text, or even interactive media – to users in this new environment. CBC/Radio-Canada is currently monitoring the evolution of services being brought into cars to consider a future presence in this space.

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New TV Integrations Make Watching Online Video Easier

Most of us are familiar with Apple AirPlay; after all, it has been around since 2004. Airplay discovers other Apple devices on a given network and mirrors their media on an Apple TV; it is extremely easy to use, but it only works within the Apple family of products.

However, most households today use a patchwork of different platforms (e.g., Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, etc.) and devices (Android smartphones, iPad, Samsung TV) to watch TV and video media. Lately, there have been a number of innovations and collaborations between competitors that have simplified the process of pushing media from other devices to your TV.

DIAL (DIscovery And Launch): A collaboration between YouTube and Netflix, this open protocol helps developers of Second Screen apps discover, launch, and stream content on compatible TVs. It does not require a pairing of devices and it will redirect a user to a Smart TV’s app store if an app is not installed. BBC, Hulu, Pandora, Disney, Turner, LG, Samsung, and Sony are amongst the companies that have signed on to participate.

Chromecast: Google's $35 dongle plugs straight into a TV’s HDMI port to play content that is launched on a tablet or mobile device. It is extremely minimal and it does not burden users by requiring a Smart TV app. Like DIAL, it works with devices outside the Google ecosystem and independent developers can add Chromecast support to their apps and media services on their own.

All of this raises the question of why these extensions are noteworthy. Not only can these technologies make Smart TVs less cumbersome for consumers, but easier integrations with mobile devices could enable new social experiences. Devices like Chromecast could also reduce the need for platform-specific apps, simplifying content delivery for media providers like CBC/Radio-Canada.

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How Augmented Reality is Bringing Content to Life

With augmented reality technology growing in popularity, users are no longer merely consumers of content but rather becoming a part of it. Companies such as IKEA and Disney have embraced this concept by exploring cutting-edge experiences for their audiences that are shaping the future of parallel content engagement.

Disney Research is currently working on a new prototype, called HideOut, which brings animated characters to life on the surface of board games or books using a mobile handheld projector. The projector adds a dynamic digital layer to games or books that responds to the physical environment around it. In other words, “when a projected character in HideOut encounters a physical wall on a board game, or a drawn wall on a page, it responds to that object as if they were both ‘really there’”, says John Pavlus of Fast Co. Design.

Similarly, IKEA has leveraged augmented reality technology to bring their furniture right into the homes of catalogue readers with the “Augmented-Reality 2014 Catalogue”.

“Users just have to simply scan the IKEA Catalog with the IKEA catalog app on mobile devices, place the printed catalog in place of where they’d like to see the furniture, and choose a product — with the help of augmented-reality, the app would show what products would look like in place of the physical catalog.” – Anthea Quay, Design Taxi

Much like Disney and IKEA, CBC/Radio-Canada has also taken pioneering steps into parallel engagement with the launch of several Second Screen apps, such as the Arctic Air Season Finale second screen. This app allowed viewers to unveil unique plot-related content, thus adding a whole new layer of engagement to the episode. CBC/Radio-Canada will continue to explore future opportunities in the parallel engagement space.

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Card-style User Interface Highlights Content and Delivers Consistent Experience

A Google-wide design initiative – card-style user interfaces – has come to characterise many of its products over the past year. Just the other week, a card-style interface was rolled out to YouTube’s Android app. With this approach, Google aims to instil cohesiveness across its products, which are used by over a billion people on a myriad of different devices.

Google Cards are plain white rectangles, with bite-sized information provided directly to the user, instead of through a list of links. They summarise pertinent data, frame the information, eliminate the need to click on a link, and further simplify increasingly deep information available to the user.

The customisable nature of these cards makes it easy to adopt this design strategy across all of the product offerings. The card-style interface can now be found in Google Maps, Google Glass, Google Keep, YouTube, Google +, Google Search, and Google Now. The scalability of these cards ensures that a consistent experience is provided to the user, regardless of the device they choose.

Twitter has also adopted a card-style interface with the goal of simplifying content discovery and providing a consistent experience. Built with Twitter’s web and mobile users in mind, Twitter cards highlight rich content linked to Tweets, and deliver a unified experience across all screen sizes. The flexibility of card interface helps highlight a variety of content types, yet maintains visual fluency across all devices.

With CBC/Radio-Canada products available on an increasing number of platforms, we are facing a similar design challenge; namely, how to maintain a cohesive look and facilitate content discovery, whilst also delivering a consistent user experience. Card-style design has emerged as one strategy for unifying desktop and mobile interfaces on information-rich services, and one worth exploring further as CBC/Radio-Canada redesigns existing products and launches new services.

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Video Advertising Trends

More interactivity in video ads seems to be gaining ground. AOL has just launched its “Spot On” ad unit and it takes the interactivity up a notch: “By hovering over the icon located in the left corner of the video player, a user can interact with sales offers, quizzes, recipes and other content provided by the brand.”AOL Launches New Interactive Video Ads, The Content Standard

According to eMarketer, “the following elements are all counted, by at least some, as contributing to interactive video:”

  • A clickable button for engagement via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and so forth
  • An ad selector, giving audience members a choice among multiple categories
  • A click, rollover, or other user action that initiates further content
  • Some type of call to action within the video player, where the ad pauses and expands in a new window, with which the audience then interacts
  • An overlay, which can deliver anything from a two-question poll to rich media graphics or animation to an additional layer of video on top of the main advertising creative.

The Hulu video platform allows users to confirm the relevance of an ad, swap out ads, and choose one of three ads at the outset of the show. Brands like Toyota have offered interactive quizzes in their Hulu ads. The user can participate in the quiz and then the rest of the video viewing is ad-free.

A new report from IPG Media Lab and YuMe looked into consumer interaction with videos and video ads on tablets. It showed that “the addition of interactive elements in video ads drove a lift in several brand metrics, including brand awareness, brand favourability and purchase intent.”

Currently, CBC/Radio-Canada’s viewers can click on a video ad and it takes them to the brand’s campaign landing page. As these types of rich interactive ads become more commonplace, the Corporation may be forced to explore supporting more features within their video ad units.

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Is Standardisation of Smart TV Platforms Finally on the Horizon?

The popular streaming platform Roku has confirmed that it is looking to strike deals with consumer electronics manufacturers to embed its platform into TV sets. With Smart TVs getting underwhelming consumer reviews, this development represents an interesting bit of news in the OTT space.

Studies published by Strategy Analytics, YouGov, and Deloitte reveal that owners of Smart TVs find them more difficult to use than other connected devices like smartphones and tablets; consequently, they are not being used to their full potential. One recent study reports that fewer than 50% of Smart TV owners utilise their set’s Internet connection to go online on a weekly basis.

Another detractor is the lack of platform standardisation. Content providers launching Smart TV applications need to sign distribution agreements with manufacturers, then develop and launch applications across multiple platforms. App developers in other genres (e.g., social, gaming, etc.) face the same hurdles. The result is a deficit of content and apps that add value to the Smart TV experience. In Japan, where Smart TV penetration is higher than in North America, the government has called for an open standard that would not correspond to any particular OS or device.

Given the above considerations, Roku CEO Anthony Wood’s stated goal of “being the operating system of televisions” merits attention. The innovative company is currently working with more than two-dozen OEMs to have their software built into Smart TVs and it reports that 3.5 million devices will be certified with their set-top-boxes and streaming stick by the end of 2013.

However, Roku is not alone in wanting to come up with a solution to the lack of Smart TV platform standardisation. The Smart TV Alliance recently launched a
Developer Support Program where software teams can send apps through a single approval system that qualifies a release for use with every Alliance-compatible set (e.g., Toshiba, LG, Panasonic, IBM, and several others).

A standardised platform would benefit content producers like CBC/Radio-Canada by significantly streamlining the process of getting their content onto Smart TVs and enabling them to reach new audiences. Standardisation could also be a boon to manufacturers. Right now, half of the Smart TV sales are being attributed simply to the purchaser wanting an up-to-date TV. Imagine what an expanded app line-up, more content choices, and an easy to use OS could do to boost the value proposition for Smart TVs.

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Flat and Skinny iOS 7 has Arrived: What are the Implications for App Developers?

Have you downloaded iOS 7 to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch yet? If you have, you have already encountered Apple’s new “flat” design aesthetic. iOS 7’s images look flat in the sense that they are no longer three-dimensional or skeuomorphic. Say goodbye to the familiar gradients, bezels, and shadows that taught the world to use touch screens, and hello to hard thin lines, borderless icons, a skinnier font, and translucent dropdowns.

While the change is generating a lot of debate, it is not exactly pioneering. Google has been rolling down this “flat and skinny” road for some time already. It has been more than eighteen months since Google published a series of design principles for the company to follow in order to create “simple and straightforward” logos, icons, and illustrations.

Google’s reductive approach foreshadows Apple’s own guidelines for iOS 7 app developers, which similarly asks designers to “embrace simplicity” and “avoid cramming lots of different images” into icons. However, iOS 7 represents more than a design change, Apple has also updated its iOS Human Interface Guidelines, paving the way for a lighter app experience.

Many companies have had developers working on updating their apps since iOS 7 was unveiled at Apple's WWDC event this past June. Big apps, such as Foursquare, Instapaper, and Evernote, just to name a few, released major overhauls the very same day as iOS 7. However, is this the expectation? Should companies like CBC/Radio-Canada be redeveloping their apps as well?

Apple is not requiring app makers to reflect the new aesthetic; however, Apple has suggested that designers revisit the use of drop shadows, gradients, and bezels. A recent report also suggested that 95% of iOS developers were working on new features for iOS 7.

The average Apple user is no slouch – a remarkable 61% of existing iPhones and iPads were running iOS 6 within a month of its release. The message from Apple is that most of its users are experienced, so companies should expect they would be up to speed reasonably fast and plan accordingly.

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