Water in bottles, coke in cups? It’s Mac time…

I really admire the way McDonalds has reinvented itself.

In the past decade or so, the massive hamburger chain has gone from being the Big Bad Fast Food Giant to being, well, less bad. You can actually eat some of the food they prepare these days, there are various options for the kids and the coffee is actually drinkable.

But why do they sell water in bottles and coke in cups? Profit, of course.

Bottled water is a pretty awful thing, really. It consumes vast amounts of oil in the form of plastics to make the bottles and fuel to truck them around, is expensive and the water itself actually isn’t any better for you than the stuff which comes out of 99% of Australian taps. We just think it is, and McDonalds probably makes 100% profit – somewhere around $1 a bottle – on every one they sell.

But there would be a huge public outcry if McDonalds started selling cups of water for a dollar or so (the cost of labour to prepare a drink of water would probably be the most expensive part of putting a cup of iced water on your tray).

Hopefully this blog will play a tiny role in preventing that outcry, and maybe even getting people to ask for water in a cup at Maccas instead of a bottle.

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The tablet computer I want

The news Apple is to introduce a tablet computer is so old and thrashed to death it doesn’t need me to add to the mix what I think it will be or feature.

Never mind that, I’ll tell you what I want. Don’t talk to me about computers, I know computers.

Firstly, it doesn’t need to fit in a pocket. My iPhone does that, and I don’t need a larger replacement for my phone: I need a device which stores electronic magazines, books and audio. It needs to be a convergent device capable of presenting the convergent media which is going to be produced once there’s a practical, economic and attractive way to consume it.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about being able to read a test of something – let’s say a car review from a motoring publication. The words are there, running around images and designed like a magazine page. But clicking on a picture brings it up to full screen, so you can have a decent look. And some images will have a video link – click on this image and the screen is filled with video playback, so you can see the car in action.

There will be links in the story to the manufacturer’s website, a full list of specifications (maybe with a link to a glossary of what terms link ‘wheelbase’ mean), links to other tests of competitive cars and more.

The magazines and books I read on this device will be purchased from the (hopefully renamed) iTunes store.

Yep, purchased. For a couple of dollars a month you should be able to subscribe to a plethora of electronic media, and if it’s produced well, you’ll be more than happy to pay, because the experience will be so much better than the crap littering the web.

There are many other things I’d like the Apple tablet to do, but I doubt Apple will build all of them in. For a start, being able to back up and view my photos, video and recordings in the field would be great – as a photographer, being able to check out the sharpness of my images from a shoot on a screen bigger than the back of a camera but without the hassle of pulling out a laptop would be a boon – so CF and SD card readers built-in, please.

Bluetooth and WiFi are essential, a USB port would be great, hold the cell phone chip. I don’t want to pay for another monthly fee to be connected to the internet when my iPhone already does bluetooth tethering. A USB port to attach a keybord so I can type on a plane would be awesome.

The potential to store and display video and images makes me hope is has a hard disc, but the likelihood is it’ll be solid-state. But please, 64GB isn’t really enough! 1080p video chews up disc space at an alarming rate, and my 21MP camera fills 8GB memory cards so fast it’s not funny.

The amount of people who’ve said such a device is not for them I find amazing. They seem to think it will be a keyboard-less laptop: if they are right, the device will deserve to fail. But such a device would be a game-changer in the same way the iPod changed the music market.

Eight years ago Apple introduced the iPod, and most people where underwhelmed – and I was one of them. What was the advantage of having 1000 songs in your pocket? For me, working from home, there was little attraction.

But once iTunes matured – and linked to Gracenote to look up the song titles of the CDs you ripped – it was the gamechanger. Now you could carry lots and lots of music anywhere.

Then came the podcast. Now, I know I’m a bit different (I got called a high achiever recently – I responded that if I were why wasn’t I rich?) but I like radio shows. Always have, but if there’s two things I hate it’s missing the start or finish of a show. Radio shows, by my definition, aren’t music interspersed by 30-seconds breaks for ads, comedy or lame DJs, but spoken-word programmes which have a topic – they can be investigative journalism (Background Briefing), round-table chat (MacBreak Weekly), humour (Friday Night Comedy) or even instructional (Spanish Podcast for Beginners) – and that’s just a few which may (or may not) have had their origins in radio, but are now all available as free downloads to you iPod via the iTunes Music Store.

Podcasts are awesome. When they are on radio you must specifically listen at the right time of day or you’ll miss out. As a podcast, you can listen when you please, starting and stopping as many times as you like – and even email friends to recommend them.

Podcasts, for me, where the big find once I bought an iPod. These days music is almost only played on my iPod as background, Podcasts take priority by a large measure.

Now there are thousands and thousands of podcasts available on the iTunes store, despite the fact there’s not much of a business model – advertising is the only way to monetize a podcast, and that’s a tough sell.

Which brings me back to the unseen Apple table. I think it could change the publishing industry just like the iPod changed the music industry.

What would you prefer – an electronic version of your favourite magazines delivered to your Apple tablet offering video and audio in addition to the printed word for a couple of dollars, or the hard copy for $7-10? Add in that a subscription would arrive in your tablet the day it becomes available, not when your newsagent decides to unpack it. And you’d be able to take hundreds of magazines, books and movies onto a plane, not just a couple. The screen size would be fine for reading (portrait) and watching (landscape), simply by rotating.

Being able to change a small amount to each reader but sell worldwide means high quality content at a low cost. Few advertisers want promote worldwide, so the advertising model will be difficult, if not impossible to sell (although localised versions through different iTunes stores could be possible for something like Vogue).

Students would flock to such a device if it’s properly specified. It could record lectures, store textbooks and be a word processor. An EyeTV unit plugged into the USB port could make it a TV and DVR.

I have no idea what Apple plans to produce, but I know what I want. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t an atheist, then I could pray.