This week, I was really excited to see a new documentary, “Love Notes to Newton.” I was a die-hard fan of the very early and much-maligned Apple Personal Digital Assistant. I still have three different models of the Newton, all of which still work. The Newton was a groundbreaking product, unfortunately maybe too far ahead of its time. Doonesbury may have made fun of its primitive handwriting recognition, but I am reminded of a saying by one of my favorite authors, that the amazing thing about circus bears is not how well they dance, but that they dance at all.
As a stager, the biggest reason I loved Newton was its portability. At the time, “portable” computers could weigh anywhere from five to fifteen pounds, had battery lives measured in minutes, and were FAR too big to be used on airplanes. On the other hand, the Newton ran for hours on AA penlight batteries (which were available anywhere) and had a modem the size of a cigarette pack that let it send fax and retrieve my CompuServe email. I traveled all over the world with my one-pound wonder. The circus bear danced.
Which brings me to the current day. I have just been through updating my mobile technology, something we all do more and more frequently, especially those if us who travel for a living. My new phone not only has more power and storage than NASA used to go to the moon, it probably could have gone all by itself or at least Siri could have guided the lunar rover around Tranquility Base while placing the astronaut’s order at a lunar Starbucks.
But all of that just goes to show how important mobile technology is to those in our industry. Today, my new iPad Pro interprets my handwriting (yes, even MY handwriting) almost perfectly, and runs for several hours on a charge. I chose an iPhone 8 Plus over the iPhone X, for two reasons: First, because I like the aspect ratio of the screen better, but even more importantly, the fingerprint recognition (rather than the X’s facial recognition) makes it much easier to unlock my phone and check my email surreptitiously during client meetings.
Which brings me to my topic for this issue: specialized mobile apps for AV. Oh, sure, there are lots of light meters, Realtime Audio Analyzers, 4K video recorders and editing applications. And there are a slew of great apps for project and schedule management, like BaseCamp, Trello and ActiveCollab. But those only address the technical side of the business. There is a very real need for some other specialized apps for AV — ones that address more of our REAL issues.
- Calendar: Apps that plan our events and schedules should take into account the team and clients we are working with. Artificial intelligence should automatically slide dates to account for client indecision and corporate approvals. Meetings should automatically be set to run 90 minutes late.
- To-do list: Items that we delegate to others (especially clients) should automatically keep re-appearing on our list, since many of them we will wind up doing ourselves anyway.
- Auto-reply to messages: Yes, we have reached the day when our phones will automatically reply to incoming messages, with AI sending back messages like, “I’m driving, will be there in 15 minutes” or “I’m at the BBQ, meet me here for lunch.” However, for AV we need to add messages like “I’m operating a camera because a union hand didn’t show up” or “I’m in a client meeting that is taking forever – PLEASE get me out of here.”
- Health and diet: Our phones will now automatically track our exercise and calorie intake. But none of them seem to have calorie figures for hanging drapery or chasing presenters around the convention center. And I can’t seem to find any that compute intake of the four basic AV food groups — coffee, donuts, burgers and fries.
- Meditation: Yes, our mobile technology will now guide us through zen meditation, creating the sounds of a pristine mountain meadow and showing us calming visuals. But I have yet to find one that emulates my most calming scenario — the dock of a convention center during the load-out after a successful show, with a visual of a pack of cigarettes and a styrofoam cup of coffee.
- Games: Obviously, our mobile technology helps us kill time during the inevitable waiting periods a stager goes through. But instead of “Angry Birds,” why don’t we have “Angry Fire Marshals” or “Find the Fedex Store?”
Yes, our mobile technology is evolving quickly, and my wrist watch will now find me a parking space or call my mom. But I still miss my venerable Newton. It has been too long since I checked my CompuServe account.