I should apologise for the recent lack of posts on this blog. For the past twelve months I have been on a sabbatical from work. This has given me a lot of time to reflect and also work on a book about Mojo skills, which will be published in the New Year.Over the past five years, more and more journalists have come to realise that their humble phone, is capable of producing serious news content. The limiting factor is not the technology they carry, but a lack of imagination on how to fully exploit its capabilities. At the same time, some news organisations have also woken up to the fact that they can substantially cut their overheads by equipping a single journalist in the field, with nothing more than a phone, a microphone and a tripod. With news organisations like the BBC and RTE the Irish broadcaster championing the format, it has quickly grown in popularity.
During this time, most of the early adopters used Apple iPhones. The reason for this was that there were simply more apps available. It also helped that it was a closed system (one manufacturer and one operating system). The lack of variation meant everything was simple and worked well. The only other contender at the time was Android based phones. Initially the cameras were not as good and variations in software and hardware made some tasks harder to achieve.
Whilst the closed system approach of Apple was initially a strength, it would soon become it’s Achilles heel. The problem is if you source everything from one manufacturer you are locked into their design path. If their products do everything you need, fine. The problems start if they decide to change or get rid of a feature that you rely on. You are stuck trying to find a work-around. In the case of Apple, with the iPhone 7, they decided to dispense with the 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack. Their argument was that it restricted how thin they could make their phones. Overnight many of the microphone accessories that relied on this port, became redundant. Luckily the new model still had a multi functional charging port, which could be utilised. However, rumour has it that with the next generation of iPhone, Apple will eliminate all external ports. Even charging will be by surface induction. It will look amazing, but zero points for functionality! You will not be able to use wired headphones, microphones or external power supplies. For sound, there are wireless workarounds, but issues such as latency and interference start to become a problem. It seems that with this, and other Apple products, form is becoming more important than function. A complete reversal of what made the company so innovative in the first place!
So, what implications does this have for the working journalist? Well, whilst I have been a long term Apple user, if I was investing in new equipment, I would currently buy an Android based phone. Thankfully as the operating system has become more popular, third party app writers have seen the advantages of producing software for it. A good example of this is Filmic Pro, a video app that gives more manual control to the user. This is now available on both platforms.
Ironically another reason for using Android is that there is more hardware variety. What was once a weakness has now become a strength. If one manufacturers’ phone does not have the features you need, you should be able to find one that does. This means you don’t have to ditch your investment in hardware and software, just because one manufacturer has changed the specifications of their product.
A third reason for considering a move to Android, is that whilst once the Mojo community was predominantly Apple based, this is slowly changing. There is a growing knowledge base of people, using other formats. For journalists producing television-based content, there may still be advantages in sticking with Apple, because of specialist apps (especially in countries where PAL is the TV standard). However for those producing web-based content, those advantages have almost disappeared.
So what of the future? It saddens me, but I think specialist and therefor more expensive phones will become more popular. In some ways this is a retrograde step, as it goes against the Mojo inclusivity ethic. The professional camera manufacturer Red, have recently announced plans to introduce a modular camera/phone system. The upside of this is that it is Android based, so it may attract more specialist app designers to the platform. Another interesting development is that it features a 3D screen, that doesn’t rely on a headset. Rumour has it that Apple are also working on a similar concept, but it remains to be seen, if you can also produce 3D content on it. I hope I am wrong, but it seems Apple is becoming a platform for consuming media, rather than producing it. Other options may come from camera manufacturers, who incorporate apps and telephone connectivity into their products. Panasonic and Sony have already experimented with this.
The one area that I still think needs to be developed, is formats. There has been a lot of talk about Virtual Reality (VR). However I have yet to see a compelling story that draws me in, beyond the wow of the technology. This will probably happen, but I am not sure we are there, or even close yet.
At the moment, much of what we produce is based on television and radio program structures, even though it is delivered over the internet. With social media becoming more and more important, we need to develop new ways to tell stories. For younger audiences who like information in ‘bursts’, the short form format will become increasingly important. Even if these ‘micro’ pieces only act as a magnet to draw people in, they need to be well crafted and compelling. How much information can you convey in 5 seconds?
So should we be optimistic, or pessimistic about the future? The mindset that has driven Mojo, is one that is open to experimentation and innovation. Whilst the technology will change and evolve, it is these underlying factors that will shape the future and make news relevant to future generations. It is difficult to imagine where we will be in even five years time, but it will be exciting getting there.
Martin Shakeshaft is a Senior Lecturer in Photography and Video Production at De Montfort University in the UK. He is also available as a Mojo trainer and consultant.