Seeing Double: The Coming of the Second Screen

As if one screen wasn’t enough. You’re about to get more than earful (eyeful?) about what to do with your second screen (your tablet or mobile device) as you’re glued to your first.

To be honest, the industry isn’t leading this revolution – they’re following what we do. We watch TV with mobile phones in hand, tablets in fist, and a laptop nearby. We tweet while we watch. We read while we tweet. We’re developing all of the right reflexes to prime us for the moment when one screen just isn’t enough.  

Signs the Second Screen is Coming to a Console Near You: Microsoft’s Xbox SmartGlass was recently unveiled as its second screen salvo. Xbox users can connect their phones, tablets, and other devices, even if they’re not Windows-based, and have the content from those devices shared on their Xbox. You could for example share your photos snapped by phone right to your big screen, or download a movie from your Xbox to your phone to continue watching when you’ve got to leave home. Gamers will be able to use their phones to interact with the game in new ways; shoppers can watch TV and click on what they like to have it added their shopping carts.  

The Wii U from Nintendo offers a second screen vision of its own. The device looks like a cross between a small tablet PC and a Wii controller. The device can display video games on TV screens or while using its controls to allow you to play with what you see on TV. Miniverse, Nintendo’s online world for Wii U, users offers the social, collaborative play experience. Wii U can act as your TV remote as well.

While it’s not as new, SONY is rediscovering its PS Vita, also a handheld screen-plus-console control. You can take your play with you on your Vita screen when you’re ready to leave home, use social networking to find a good game, and use the two built in cameras for augmented reality play.

Signs of Second Screen Apps: Console mobile devices are just one way to take advantage of the second screen phenomena. The other is through mobile apps. There are apps for your phone that let you search for and interact with programming, apps that act as your remote control, and network-as-you-watch apps. 

IntoNow is a social networking app that runs on your iPad or iPhone and where you can view archived TV shows stored on the web, as well as network with friends who are watching what you’re watching.  And that’s just for starters. IntoNow employs video recognition. Similar to the way that Shazam recognizes music, IntoNow recognizes video.

Visiware’s PlayAlong isn’t available in the US yet, but Brits are using it to watch a TV show – say Jeopardy or How to Be a Millionaire – and actually play along, just like one of the on-screen contestants.

BuddyTV is a popular programming guide that lets you search Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and a few TV operators (including Dish, DirecTV, and Tivo). You can also communicate with friends via social networks like Facebook.

Dijit is yet another show-searching app, with a twist: it delivers trivia and game experiences, and you can win prizes for playing.

Want to follow the second screen activity? Follow the blog on Digital Video Space


Nolan Bushnell: Education Meets Chuck E Cheese

Nolan Bushnell likes to play. He believes that even the most ADD of us can focus and pay attention when we’re deeply involved in a game. And he believes that our current education system is desperately broken. Bushnell, who’s made a healthy living from playing, is out to take the lessons learned from building Atari, Chuck E. Cheese and other playful ventures into the classroom.

Brainrush, his newest company, is based on the idea that every curriculum lesson can be a mini-game. The games promote speed learning of facts and ideas. Bushnell says that videogames can take the most onerous parts of being a classroom teacher – disciplinarian, paper-grader and role taker, off the to-do list, freeing them up to teach big ideas.

Brainrush is best described as Zynga meets Wikipedia. You take a body of knowledge – say multiplication tables or body parts – and you gamify the experience of learning in a hyperactive setting. You’re racing against the clock, and every six seconds you must supply a response. You’re drilled until you get it right. Then it’s off to the next level. The program adapts to review the things it knows you haven’t mastered, and lets you move on once you do.

Bushnell’s game is not a new idea. Edutainment software that combines gaming and learning has been around for years. Speed drills are built into the rubric of many educational systems (think Japanese cram school). And Brainrush doesn’t do much to evolve the critical thinking and problem solving skills that are mission critical to tomorrow’s workforce.

But Brainrush is a bit different that other learning games, if only in scope. For one, Brainrush is an open-authoring system enabling anyone with a body of knowledge to create a game: Spanish, artwork, biology, you name it. For another, it tracks each student’s progress in micro detail – if you haven’t learned fractions, it’s going to be hard for you to move on to decimals. Brainrush can figure that out.

Finally, according to Bushnell’s research, Brainrush elicits thalamic engagement. In other words, you remember better when you’re excited and you’re excited when you’re playing.

I tested Brainrush by learning the muscles of the body.  I’m no genius and I’ve got the attention span of tse-tse fly, but in 15 minutes I’d mastered about 25 of the major muscles. I returned to them 4 days later to find that I could still identify the latissimus dorsi and trapezius just easily as a few days before.

The proof of concept is undisputable. Repetition and quick response leads to mastery. But the question remains: is memorizing the muscles of the body the most effective use of my learning time? In a world where it’s a given that there’s too much information to possibly know, is it now more important to learn how and where to find the information, or how to memorize it? Brainrush will need to rush to answer that question before the classroom becomes the Chuck E. Cheese of education.


$95K Gets You 60 Minute Tour of Earth from the Edge of Outer Space

Space travel devotees don’t have to wait a moment longer to book their trip. Andrew Nelson, CEO of XCOR, the aerospace company behind the creation of the Lynx space vehicle, announced that Space Expedition Exploration was setting up shop and taking orders for one heck of trip – the first commercial space flights. The company is open for orders, and so far, they have commitments from 70 people paying $95K each for a 60-minute suborbital space flight.   

The reusable shuttle can take off and land from any normal runway. Initial plans call for takeoff and landing include two separate space ports – takeoff from Curacao, an island in the Dutch Caribbean, and landing in the Mojave Desert. The space shuttle will hold the pilot and one passenger. The quick jaunt lets the passenger experience the G-force of takeoff, the weightlessness of space, and a Google map-like view of Earth’s crust. With a glass canopy providing sweeping views, the Lynx’s trajectory is basically straight up to 100km above earth in about four minutes. That’s followed by a six minute weightless glide and a slow gliding descent back down to the runway. Four booster rockets and a mixture of pure kerosene and liquid oxygen fuel power the shuttle.

To whet your appetite and give you the full $95K experience, the party starts long before the actual flight. Experiences leading up to the flight include a G-Centrifuge ride, a trip to the Netherlands for a spin in the Desdamona flight simulator and a little jaunt as a passenger on fighter jet are included in the price, as well as a flight suit and vacation in Curacao.

While the other 99% may wait for the prices to come down to earth, it’s fascinating to see the migration of the space program move from a government initiative to a worldwide private sector experience. SpaceX has a sales force, a heavy Dutch-based management group including support from KLM. Me, I’m afraid I’ll need to wait for the press junket, but my bags are packed.


It’s Wanderful: Old Living Books Reincarnated as New Apps

Kids who cut their teeth on PCs in the early 1990s will fondly remember Living Books from Broderbund Software. For millions of kids around the world, Living Books was their first interactive experience. Engaging stories with clickable words and drawings captivated the first generation of on-screen readers. These classic titles were retired and collecting dust – until now, that is.

Wanderful, a new interactive book company, has dusted off some familiar favorites: Arthur’s Teacher Trouble by Marc Brown, Little Monster by Mercer Mayer, and the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, with the promise of more to come. The content has been app-ified to run on iPhone/iPad, Android, and Windows platforms. iPhone and iPad will be out by the end of June; the other platforms to follow.

Wanderful is promising more titles added to the franchise soon, including Stan & Jan Berenstain’s Berenstain Bears, more of Marc Brown’s Arthur the Aardvark, and others. Each app is available in three versions: a single language edition is $4.99 (extra languages can be added for $1.99 each) and a premium edition for $7.99 which includes materials for teaching.

In case you’re wondering where Living Books was sequestered for the last decade, it was part of Houghton Mifflin, who sold the rights to Wanderful. We’re still waiting to hear where the Carmen Sandiego and KidPix series turn up.

Mark Schlicting, one of the original members of the Living Books team, has been involved in porting the old stories to their new homes. “These stories will never be dated,” says Mark, “and they sold millions of copies each at a time when each cost significantly more money and there were much fewer installed devices to play them on”. More than a simple port, the new apps have enriched content and animation. This is a great test of the staying power of a good story across generations. To hear Mark speak about ebooks on a panel at Kids@Play at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2012, click here. And Wanderful is also on Facebook, as well as Twitter: @Wanderfulbooks


The Perfect Storm: Facebook, The FTC and The New World of Web Kids

On the Internet, if you’re under thirteen years old, you don’t belong in most places.  Sites like Facebook, in particular, have made it abundantly clear that those under the age of thirteen are trespassers, subject to deportation.

 But three things are changing the picture and it’s my guess that we’re about to see kid’s web that’s richer and more robust because of it.

  •        The regulations protecting kids on the Internet have become outdated and are being revisited.
  •        Developers who want to create great web experiences for kids are stymied by existing regulation. 
  •        Parents have become silent scofflaws allowing their kids to join Facebook and other adult sites  even in f the kids are under 13.

The regulation is question is COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, created to curtail the collection of data from minors on the Internet.   If you’re going to engage a minor on a web site then parental consent is required.

Enacted in 2000, the law has been around since before iPads and smartphones, apps, social networks and collaborative tools.  At a recent industry conference,  All  conference, FTC Commissioner, Leibowitz,  Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC said COPPA was undergoing changes.

The second problem is that the world of kid’s is a god forsaken place for any developer trying to earn a living.   By law, kid’s content developers can’t  allow kids to share information, track their location, or know very much about what they’re doing without parental consent.

Lorraine Ackerman, who runs the site Moms with Apps, offered that given the instantaneous nature of the mobile environment, this creates an additional friction and should be factored into the sales viability of the app.  Many developers play it safe, keeping the kids in a safe bubble.  For example, sending a drawing to Grandma or offering  personalized/localized activity (let’s say a scavenger hunt) is  “walking a fine line”.  Developers of kids’ apps, unlike others, have very little feedback on what kids like, what’s working and how to engage them further. Kids app developers forgo many of the analytic tools that other developers use to gauge user engagement.   One of the byproducts of regulation is  that developers err on the side of safety and refrain from making more engaging kids’ spaces.

And then there’s Facebook.  Facebook  is making headlines because the company is toying with technology that would allow kids under thirteen to be Facebook members in some sort of parentally supervised area.  As Facebook goes, so goes the Internet. According to a study reported by Cnet, Minor Monitor, found that.38 percent of the kids on Facebook are below age 13.  That’s over 3.5 million of Facebook’s  monthly visitors in this country alone.  

Welcome to the perfect storm.  Regulation is being revisited.  Innovation in the kids marketplace is being stymied.   And it’s now possible for social networking technology to let children to talk to Grandma or Aunt Bess, their best friend or favorite cousin, without leaving them exposed to the vagaries of the Internet at large.

Parents should be prepared to take on more of the burden for managing their kids online lives as these forces collide.  But ultimately, a web where kids can talk to their friends and family, under watchful eyes, with the proper privacy protection can be a really great web for all of us.


Google+ Hangouts Designed to Make Video Chat More Fun

Google Hangouts is Google’s new enhanced video chat service. If Google+ Circles is the Google equivalent of Facebook, then Hangout is the Google equivalent of Skype. To make Google’s video chats more appealing than its competition, the company is showcasing apps that are meant to show off the power of video chat. For instance, Cacoo is a very cool diagramming tool, and SlideShare is a presentation-sharing app.

As far as “family-friendly” apps go, Scoot & Doodle on Hangouts is the only option in the Google+Hangout world, at least for the time being. It offers a chance to doodle on the screen while video chatting. I like to call it “collob-a-draw”. The technology is pretty cool. I chatted with two Scoot & Doodle folks in three separate video chat windows while we all collaborated on a drawing on a shared screen floating above us. The idea, says Scoot@Doodle co-founder Christine Egy Rose, is for families to do something natural together online. 


The tools of the paint box program are still pretty simple – a lovely color palette, a few brush sizes (all round brushes) and an eraser are the major components. A blank screen can be daunting (and not just for kids) – but after a bit you’ll find there’s something zen-like about doodling while you chat. Inventive families could easily create a game of Pictionary or Hangman. There’s no text capabilities for labeling a drawing, no stamps or stickers, and the circular brushes are pretty limiting, but I the company expects to add these shortly. Doodling sessions can be saved and shared to sites like Twitter and Facebook, and unlike the usual my-turn/your-turn sessions of other games, the real-time drawing together provides a unique experience.

If you’ve got a web camera and internet connection, just set up a Google+ account (do this as an adult, not a child, and be careful to always supervise young children as they play). Start a family hangout with invited friends or relatives. This step lets you video chat. Hit the Apps button within Hangouts and select Scoot&Doodle (or whatever other app you’re into). If you’ve been sitting on the fence about family video chats, it’s well worth the extra steps.