Tablets and smartphones are heralding a media revolution

When the press discovered that Amazon’s US$200 Android tablet (the Kindle Fire) is sold for US$3 less than it costs to manufacture, many people were confused. Why would a technology company sell a gadget at a loss? It all makes sense when you realise that, increasingly, the playing field is no longer about hardware; it’s about content.

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Tablets and smartphones are the key devices in this new ecosystem of content (although they’re certainly not the only ones), and we all know that these are the must-have devices for every regular consumer. Smartphone penetration in emerging markets like South Africa has surpassed 20%, and while the country’s tablet market is estimated at only around 160 000 now, there is every sign that it will follow the US market which is expected to hit 55-million by the end of 2012. These are not geek toys; they are mainstream devices becoming even more mainstream by the day.

What this means is a convergence in our content consumption. The paradigm of files as physical objects you “own” and “store” somewhere is fading, we now expect to be able to buy and access all of our content on all of our devices seamlessly. A great example of this is Amazon’s Kindle Whispersync, which allows you to pick up on exactly the page you left off, even when switching between a laptop, Kindle, iPad or smartphone. As bandwidth becomes less prohibitive, people expect to do exactly the same with their music, movies and even games. Apple (with iCloud) and Amazon continue to be the key pioneers here, but expect to see every other major tech company worth their weight follow suit over the coming year.

The living room of the future (and some early adopters’ present) does not revolve around a TV and a stack of DVDs, but is rather a more comfortable extension of a user’s other, multiple, content hubs. This is a world where a user can pause what they’re watching on their TV (using their phone to do so) or get on a train and keep watching the same programme on their tablet device. It’s the world of Spotify and Google Docs.

Excitingly, this content convergence means even more multimedia opportunities. With users filling in so many more “time gaps” in their lives with content (who doesn’t sit on the loo playing with their smartphone?), this means that we need to produce more content than we ever have before (a boon for brands, who are increasingly providing this content, as well as traditional media companies).

All of these new formats also mean we’re seeing rad experiments with media that would not have been possible before, such as the delightfully disturbing Alice, the Madness Returns storybook for iPad (hat-tip to @andyhadfield for finding this gem).

Already, more people in emerging markets than most would believe spend long hours each day browsing and downloading from the operator-run portals on their feature phones. The mobile phone is already the “first screen” for most, and a primary portal for content. As we keep getting more advanced gadgets into more hands, have no doubt that our media consumption through new formats will ramp up faster even than in developed countries.

It’s a good time to be in the business of making content.

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