Home > Uncategorized > Rethinking Second Screen Size

Rethinking Second Screen Size

-first posted at RJIonline.org on January 9, 2014

Deep into my project as a Reynolds Fellow to find a local news workflow and approach to providing “second screen” content during newscasts, I was keenly focused as I walked the floor at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, keeping my eyes peeled for any technology that might make me think differently about just how people will use the content we distribute. Tablet technology, perhaps the most common way people access second screen content when watching first screen television programs, is in abundance at the show. The industry leaders have all their best on display–Samsung, Panasonic, Lenovo—and all have impressive models out for 2014 with sharper displays, lighter weight and bigger size, and better software options. Those size and software changes aim to increase the usefulness of the devices for a wider array of tasks, including losing what has been a staple for many of us. Samsung’s Anthony Wilkerson said of that company’s tablets, “People are really looking for the laptop replacement experience.”

Users try out the new Galaxy Note Pro tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

For Samsung, that comes with the Galaxy Note Pro and Galaxy Tab Pro, 12.2-inch tablets that carry an Android-based productivity suite as a replacement for your laptop’s Microsoft Office. The Hancom Office tools look so much like their Microsoft competitor that it is hard to tell which software you are using when on the device. Wilkerson touted the size of the device as being perfect for its virtual keyboard, lining up with the size of my hands pretty well. But should you like the tactile sense of typing, Samsung has a Bluetooth keyboard and even a mouse available to help the tablet seem more and more like the laptop that’s been replaced.

If Samsung has a tablet that acts like a laptop, across the convention center, competitor LG wants its tablet to come off a bit more like your phone. The LG G Pad 8.3 sells itself as a tablet with a bezel so small it allows you a one-handed grip with fingers on either side of the device—much like you use when holding your much-smaller phone.

The LG G Pad 8.3 fits easily in my grip at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

LG’s massive and ultra-sharp televisions have been a hit of the show, but the corner of its display with tablets and phones is crowded all the time as attendees weigh options for next generation tablet devices. Both the Samsung “we’re more like your laptop” and the LG “we’re more like your phone” approaches will undoubtedly win over large groups of users who expect a certain form and function to meet their needs. But my wheels about the best second screen tablet device really got turning when I visited the Sony area to see—not its Xperia line of tablets—but the company’s VAIO Tap touchscreen PCs. Available in sizes up to 21 inches, the Tap models are desktop computers that incorporate the best of a laptop and a tablet in one. More on those features in a moment, because it’s important to note at this point my wheels were turning in a different direction than they had at Samsung or LG. For me, the best second screen experience might come from not from having your tablet act like it’s your laptop or phone. The best experience might come from having your desktop act like it’s your tablet.

So all this make sense, let me give you a bit more about how the VAIO Tap 21 works. It uses an all-in-one form factor, with keyboard and mouse attachment optional. Human interaction comes through a touchscreen and the Windows 8 operating system, already giving the user a tablet feel when navigating through the device. “It can fit into anything you need on a regular basis through your daily life,” said Sony’s Yuji Hamada. About the size of a cafeteria tray, the computer is light and boasts portability through a quick-disconnect power cord and a built-in stand that adjusts at infinite levels from flat to practically vertical.

images_sonySony shows off its new tablets and computers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

And it was that unique stand approach that really gave me the idea of its value for second screen use. Because, when I shifted it to the flat mode (which just took a hand on each side and a push backwards), I ended up with what then appeared to me to be the world’s largest tablet. Compare it to the already-big Samsung Galaxy Note Pro and its 12.2-inch screen. That one totals about 75 square inches of screen space. But the VIAO Tap 21 comes in at a whopping 244 square inches of screen space. With the computer folded flat, it would fit comfortably on your lap (though Hamada looked at me pretty strangely when I suggested that).

So, what would a giant tablet in your lap allow you to do in a second-screen world? Imagine that square footage right at your fingertips. Much of our discussion around the SIDE (Simultaneous Interactivity Display Engine) project at RJI has centered on just what we can fit into the design for our second screen news experience. We are building it for optimal use on a tablet-sized device or a laptop, rather than a phone. We ruled out phone use rather early because of the design limitations involved. But a screen more than three times larger than the biggest tablet would allow a much richer user experience. Consider this: our current focus is on a “center stage” area on the user’s tablet where the bulk of the interaction with newscast content would take place.

A spokesman highlights the features of Samsung Galaxy tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show 

That center stage will be surrounded by a number of side experiences, like polling and socials media interaction. But imagine the multiplying effect we would receive with much more space. Not only could center stage grow, but the number of side experiences would expand to allow users to have greater choice in how they interact and to multitask across several functions—all while still watching the main program on their traditional televisions.

But why limit a device this size to being the second screen? With a large surface, we could move the main “broadcast” to one corner of the screen, allowing it to be the conduit for both the linear and interactive news content from the station. No longer would it be the second screen. In that scenario, it becomes the first and only screen, and surpasses the current models of multiscreen viewing.

These are next steps, but still fascinating to contemplate. I know that not everyone will go out and buy a Sony VAIO Tap 21. I know that not everyone wants a busy, moving, multi-focus experience when watching the news. And I certain know that a giant PC/tablet in the lap won’t be ideal for everyone. But these explorations at CES help underline a sentiment I’ve held since beginning this project, that we are not developing the one and only path down which news distribution will go. Instead, we are trying to invent one of many paths along which consumers can travel. All the tablets on display here in Las Vegas, from companies as diverse as Polaroid and Intel, mean the technology will continue to diffuse across the landscape in many different forms and functions. Early innovators like Apple and Samsung made their mark in determining the basic style of much of what we see now—even generations later. But just as I could see a Sony desktop machine and picture it as a tablet, millions of users will take those protean designs and adapt and alter them to their ultimate desired function. The challenge for us as news content producers is to figure out how to be where the consumers are, and arrive about the same time they do.

avatar_646Stacey Woelfel is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. He serves as the news director of KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate at the University of Missouri. In addition, Woelfel has previously held the position of national chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

Woelfel’s project is intended to add a richer experience to traditional linear television news consumption by developing and exploring second screen engagement opportunities. Second screen viewing means audience members are using a mobile device to view content while watching news broadcasts.


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