Quibis new show, Wireless, shows the power and limitations of its Turnstyle technology

 theverge.com  09/16/2020 14:00:00   Julia Alexander

When Quibi launched in April, it had two big selling points: high-quality short-form video content designed for phones and Turnstyle, its quintessential technology. Except none of the titles Quibi launched with really took advantage of the Turnstyle technology, which allows for two completely different experiences when transitioning from portrait to landscape. And very few of Quibis originals were, well, good.

Wireless is the first Quibi original that manages to accomplish both those goals  its not only good, its made better by Turnstyle. The Steven Soderbergh-produced series follows a college student, Andy (played by Tye Sheridan), after he becomes stranded in the Colorado mountains while trying to get to a New Years Eve party. The first three chapters that I watched set up a series similar to other survival horror films; the suns disappearing, its freezing cold, and theres no one around for miles  how does he survive? Wireless uses Turnstyle technology to try and circumvent the subgenres norms by making Andys iPhone a character.

When viewing Wireless in landscape mode, its a regular cinematic experience. In portrait mode, Andys iPhone screen becomes the storyteller. Anything that appears on the screen becomes what the audience watches. Google Maps, FaceTime, Tinder, Siri, Instagram, Safari, and more tell the story that Andy cant by himself. There are different types of prompts designed to alert people as to when they should turn their phones to experience the series the way it was designed.

The prompt in the bottom right hand corner appears while watching Wireless in landscape mode. The icon moves from landscape to portrait, telling viewers to switch the phones orientation.

The first are little icons that appear on the screen gesturing to flipping the phone. These are the most obvious, but there are also sounds any iPhone owner will recognize that act as cues to flip the phone. The clacking of typing on a keyboard and app notifications are also signals that the real story is taking place on Andys phone, and you should watch in portrait mode. For a concept that could have come off extremely gimmicky, it works for Wireless. The result (so far) is an entertaining, interactive show that seems to demonstrate what Quibi was trying to be several months ago.

Theres only one problem  shaking the phone too much seems to kickstart some bugs with the app. In one instance, the app seemed to automatically lock on landscape mode, forcing me to refresh. On another occasion, the app quit unexpectedly. There was another instance where the show stopped playing and I had to restart the app once more. Hey, bugs happen, but Quibis chief technology officer, Rob Post, told The Verge these are hiccups. Hes encountered bugs both in Quibi and other apps where you got to kind of shake it in order to get it to switch orientations. Hiccups in an app that doesnt require constant turning may be one thing  but Quibi, and Wireless specifically, are built with constant shifting between landscape and portrait mode in mind.

Weve been fine tuning the system for the last six months on Turnstyle, Post says. We are working directly with some of the device manufacturers to in order to help alleviate some of these problems. A lot of the times its with the sensors in the phone.

Its not like someone can just decide to Chromecast the show, either. Or, they can, but theyll lose out on what makes Wireless worth watching. Casting to a TV set is fine for shows that dont require constant rotating, but for Wireless, not being able to rotate takes away from what makes it work. Wireless is dependent on the audience experiencing what Andy does  thats harder to do if youre not watching his life play out on his phone in real time. Quibi is going to try and direct people who are streaming on their TV sets to watching things like Wireless on their phone, Post said.

When it comes to any new innovation that were going to add to the platform that gives storytellers like a new way to kind of share their stories, it is going to be a challenge to port those things to the living room devices, Post acknowledged, adding that in some cases, with future enhancements and innovations, it may not be possible for us to port everything to the living room.

Posts comments seem to insinuate that in the future there will be some cases where Quibi subscribers must watch a show or film on their phone, and wont be able to cast content to their television set. Still, relinquishing control of how people will watch something is an acceptance that Wireless director Zach Wechter knows well. In order to create Wireless, Wechter essentially filmed two feature movies  one shot entirely in landscape mode, and another in portrait. There are certain moments designed to be experienced in landscape mode and others best experienced watching a screen recording of his phone, but Wechter knows he cant control it. Everyone has a different comfort level with their phones, he told The Verge, and that means no singular experience will be the same.

Still, Wechter is hoping that people do watch Wireless on their phones, and do engage with rotating it a few times. Wireless is a story about our connection to our phones, how the tiny bricks in our pockets become a lifeline. Not watching part of the series in portrait mode takes away from the authenticity and intimacy Wechter tried to find.

These screens and these images of apps, of text messages, the perspectives of a phone camera, are all very familiar to us, Wechter says. We spend hours looking at these screens. Authenticity was probably the word we used most on set. If the speed of the texting bubbles moves too fast, people are going to catch it and its going to break the reality.

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