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Buzzzzzz buzzzzz chatterchatterchatter Speeeeeecccculaaaation buzz buzzzzz buzzzzz…. Can you hear that? That is the ambient sound of the World Wide Web Buzz Generator, kicked into high gear with the two words “video” and “iPod” flying like fire off of the tip of the tongues of every analyst in the industry. “Soon!” you hear them cry. “Amazing!” come the shouts. But if we even take the the time to take half a step back and put on some earmuffs, grim reality starts to set in: Why a video iPod?

I would like to simply examine some points and arguments being made for and against a video iPod, and try to move past all of the wishing and stipulations to see what could really be at the core of such a fabulous product.


First and foremost, one fact must be recognized as concrete: Steve Jobs and Apple are in the business of making money. Believe it or not, it is not Uncle Steve’s dream every night to make you drool over new products and designs, and Apple’s mission statement does not say anywhere “make amazing products that everybody will love no matter what.” While Steve Jobs may be dang good at making you drool, he is even better and making you spend money, and that is his purpose and his job. So just keep that in mind as we walk through the points here.

The Bandwagon Theory

One of the most basic arguments I have heard for the introduction of a video iPod, vPod, iPod vIdeo, whatever you want to call it, is that “every other Tawainese and Japanese company has introduced MP3 players that also play videos, so Apple will have to.” No. No, that is the weakest argument I have heard regarding Apple’s strategy for a video iPod.

Why not jump on the bandwagon? Because that is not Apple’s methodology, nor is it Steve Job’s mentality. If Apple jumped on the bandwagon, they would have dissappeared long ago and never have reincarnated themselves as the pop-culture icon they are now, because their products would have been no different from the competition’s. Just about every MP3 player out there now includes a built-in FM tuner. Does the iPod? Which was the first company to completely drop legacy floppy drives from all of their computers? Who now sells over 1000 songs a minute, 82% of total online music sales, in a closed, proprietary format? It is not Apple’s way to jump on the bandwagon. Heck, what is their slogan? “Think different.”

Also, how succesful have those other MP3 players with video capabilities been? Evidently not too succesful, as compared with the 30.2% market share that the single line of DAP’s called iPod has against the entire rest of the market. iPods sans video helped Apple reap a 75% increase in revenue from over a year ago, to $3.52 billion. Money for Apple is flying in from these little guys, which is helping Steve achieve his goal of, now let’s review this, making money. (Read that in a deep, booming voice from now on) If Apple introduces a video iPod, it will not be “bandwagon” style.

Technical Specifications and the Holy Grail

In the past, Steve Jobs has himself been quoted as saying that he wouldn’t introduce a video iPod because he would hate to watch video on such a tiny little screen. And guess what? Steve Jobs doesn’t say something as a lie, and then completely contradict it later. He does have a tendency to skirt around the issue, but you can be sure with such a direct comment as that, that a video iPod will not come in the same physical form as it does now. That basically leaves two options: increase the screen size or provide a video-out.

Color screens, now a part of all regular iPods, but not mini’s, have been shown to be at least capable of displaying video (flipping really fast through all of your photos), but evidently have not come down in price enough to be a part of the iPod minis. And since we know that if Steve did put out a video iPod, one of the options would be to have a larger screen. And a larger screen would also require a phsyically larger iPod to make room for it’s scroll wheel, which would require a bigger and better battery, which would all in turn require a higher price. And still, the screen would most likely not be large enough to satisfy Steve’s desire to watch movies on it.

So let’s scratch the idea of watching movies on the iPod. Okay, so how about a video-out connection of some sort? What format would it be? To keep with it’s track record, Apple would only provide one. And that single cable would most likely need to be able to be protected by DRM, because what is Apple’s goal? To make money. Thus what formats are capable of that? DVI and HDMI? Apple wouldn’t introduce the video aspect of the iPod without being able to make money off video, which means it needs content providers, who will want their content protected, but more on this later.

If we are putting out video through an outbound connection, we still need to get the video there. That would require the hardware components necessary to decode the video, to pump at least some of it to the screen, and to pump it out to the receiving source. A logical guess would be that Apple would use MPEG4 or Quicktime H.264, which both require a fair amount of processing power to decode videos, even on a desktop computer. So there would be a price jump to include the hardware, codecs, and processing power to be able to output videos. Also, a huge consideration is the battery life of the iPod. Current regular iPods have a realistic battery life of about 10 hours, with the backlight and equalizer off, with no change in songs or otherwise. Video, which requires at least a stereo channel to be decoded, if not a 5.1 track, plus a much larger video track to be decoded, and then put out over the connection, are going to require quite the battery. Also, when playing music, the iPod only has to spin up its hard drive to store the song into memory, spin down, and then wait for the next one. The extra bandwidth in video would require the battery-sucking hard drive to either be constantly spinning or spin up-and-down much more frequently. Have you tried watching video on a PSP? Notice how much shorter your battery life is compared with playing games? Batteries my friends…

And don’t forget, all of this extra hardware is going to cost more money, which means that Apple will either have to make less profits off the player, or charge more for it and sell fewer. Neither of those really work into the mantra of making money.

Without Content you have Plastic

Now perhaps the killer. If people can play video on their iPods, what will they play? The two largest speculations, based on the ever-anonymous industry analysts, are that Apple will sell music videos for $1.99, and that Apple has been talking with Disney to license media. A couple of quick points about each.

I would never pay 2 bucks to watch a music video. Others would not pay that. And I’m an average rich music-loving American teenager. Why? First and foremost, because Apple already offers the music videos FREE from iTMS, to watch or to bundle with purchased songs. If consumers at one point did not have to pay for it, and then suddenly have to pay double the price to get a low-quality video and low-quality music, do you think they will do it? I highly doubt it. Second, the iPod is an on-the-go device. People listen to it while on-the-go, doing other things. They do not necessarily have to be walking around, but you do not listen to your iPod and stare at the screen the entire time – you listen and do something else, with your iPod in your pocket. It would be very difficult (or at least short-lived) for Apple to sell music videos for twice the price of the actual song (for lower quality) and subsequently expect people to buy enough of the videos for Apple to make money.

Licensing Disney media (and more than likely Pixar media as well) is a much more viable, though still shaky, prospect. “Disney” content includes The Disney Channel, ABC Family, ESPN, A&E, The History Channel, plus many many other local TV stations and international ventures. So therefore, it would be possible to license either episodes of shows aired on these stations, or videos produced by Disney themselves. However, time-shifted video cannot operate in exactly the same way as time-shifted audio (read: podcasts) because the information contained therein is so much more time-sensitive. Could you imagine in our busy lifestyles today, purchasing the latest episode of Sports Center, but not getting to watch it until later that day, or after the next game that your team has played? Worthless content if it is watched to late. Cartoon shows are timeless (in a sense), but children are not the target audience for the iPod. Feature-length movies would be a HUGE download, but might interest some. In the end, don’t expect Apple to straight up sell Sports Center or Dexter’s Lab through iTMS.

What about homebrew content? All of those cutsie family videos you have made of your many memories, compiled with way too many different transitions and background music that is sure to make you wonder what you are thinking? You could take these around and show Grandma the next time you are over at her house! Great, that’ll be just peachy! But how is Apple going to make money? Aside from selling the actual video iPod, they won’t. So Steve has to have something else up his sleeve.

Now that you are deflated…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a video-iPod-hater. If the next iPod I purchased could play videos without any major price difference, I would be all for it! But at the same time, I don’t feel that anyone in the speculation arena has gotten any of the details right, and before we all spread it around, we should give it a little more hard thinking to get inside Steve’s head. (Ya I know, impossible).

I do believe that at some point in the future, iPods will be able to play videos. I believe the content would most likely be video such as the West Wing season or specific episodes, where you can carry your iPod instead of your DVD set. Perhaps you’ll also be able to watch “Finding Nemo” on, or more appropriately, with your iPod. However, I don’t think it will be anything close to what we have guessed, and know everyone will gasp again when it is introduced.

Keep your head above the clouds people, and have a nice day!

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March 12, 2010 8:22 am