Monday, October 29, 2012

Cross Platform Portability and the Spanish Armada

In an earlier posting, I argued that video platforms were like battleships, that as there was some combination of gun size and armor that made senses for a naval platform, there was some combination of screen size and computing power that made sense for a video platform. Further, as most unmatched naval platforms (the Graff Spee being an example) were failures; video platforms that had too big or too little screen size were not going to be successful. That equation has been somewhat upended by ever increasing screen resolution. However, as resolutions reach human visual limits, I think a new equilibrium is established. The image above is from

A new issue comes to fore that also has something of a naval analogy, that is screen aspect ratio. Apple recently modified the aspect ratio of the iPhone going to a 16:9 for the iPhone 5 form a previously more square format. The decision was motivated by a desire for a larger but not wider screen to retain its one hand use capability. 16:9 being the TV format is fortunate circumstances for "TV Everywhere" but most movies are, in fact, made in wider aspect ratios and cut down for TV. So, there is no guarantee, that future product might have even more elongated aspect ratios. Additionally, as new platforms develop (wearables, new forms of tablet notebook and TV) a diversity of aspect ratios might proliferate.

Currently content is supported by two complementary business models: purchased content and ad supported. The effect of differing aspect ratios differs greatly between the two models. In the purchased content world, as long as video content can be trimmed, or letterboxed with reasonable screen utilization, all is fine. In the ad supported world, with ads being placed in specific locations on the periphery of the screen,the actual layout of the screen is paramount if you are going to establish or maintain a multi-platform strategy. Maintaining any ad supported strategy gets more difficult in smaller and smaller screens as type sizes diminish into the unrecognizable. The art of placing ads on the periphery of the main content is one of the vexing issues for Facebook as it attempts to become more of a mobile app. But as I noted, the applicability of the ad supported model diminishes with smaller screen size and with uncertain aspect ratios. In the late 1580's, there was another multi-platform strategy that went down to defeat because of physical dimensions. The Spanish Armada was assembled with a core of actual Spanish warships and a variety of other ships that were mostly armed merchants. They all carried cannons, but the cannons were of different sizes and it seems that provisioning each ship with the right size munitions was an issue that the Spanish dealt with poorly. Many of the ships were unable to fire on their English opposition. The Spanish multi-platform strategy was a failure before it even left port.

TV makers have recently begun experimenting with "Cinema Wide" 23:9 aspect ratios to better accommodate cinematic content. New, "wearable computing" platforms are being developed, smart phone and tablet aspect ratios are the OEM's choice. Again, this fits well with a purchased content business model but not with ad supported content.

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