A public media device?

With the launch of this new purpose-built GPS device (above) branded with Geocaching in mind, I got to wondering… Is it time for public media stations to consider contract design and manufacturing of purpose-built digital devices? After all, GPS units have been around for decades now, but this is the first major foray into the field that’s specifically designed around the Geocaching game and brand.

Sure, it’s probably too early for public media to actually build and sell custom devices, but it may be time to think about it.

Several years ago I saw a device from Colorado Public Radio designed to receive Internet streams from the station — and it had only one function: receiving the station. You couldn’t even point the device to another station. I don’t know if they ever mass produced the device, but I thought that was a fun little idea.

The public radio community has developed iPhone apps, of course — some impressive ones at that, with help from PRX, CPB and others. I imagine PBS may get into the game once the iPad is released — if the stations will allow it. Or maybe the producers will do it themselves, without PBS or station approval.

Can you imagine a full-screen interactive Frontline app with embedded documents, video clips, full episodes, links to online resources, live data and more? What a fabulous research tool, teaching tool, voter education tool and more! TV begins to look very flat, dull and excessively linear at that point.

Who knows if public media will go hardware — maybe software is enough. But let’s not think too small.