12 September 2006

Apple, Movies, iPods etc

Just a quick commentary on the Showtime announcement today (excuse any typos and omissions and general stupid comment).

Just yesterday, my friend Tim emailed me for my thoughts pre-event. I wrote back with the following:

1. Will it work on my iPod?
2. Will it work with my PC?
3. Will it only work on a Mac (and a new Mac at that)? If it's limited to Macs I think that will of course limit the appeal. But it's also a potential reason to switch if used cleverly.
4. What resolution will it be? iPod video is not enough for full length movie at $10-15. It's got to be 480p or the videophiles will slam it.
5. What different TV's will be supported? Top of the line plasma/lcd, or bog standard CRT in kids room? It's gotta be both surely?
6. Will it do Dolby 5.1 etc if available? Again, videophiles will turn away.
7. If there is wireless distribution, real world performance of wireless is typically fraught with problems due to building design and configuration, interfering networks and even microwaves.
8. Can I burn it to a DVD? And if so, can I play back from that? (If DVD's are 1-2GB, that's only 20-30 before you've filled up most people's laptop hard drive).
9. The movie studios are dinosaurs clinging on to the olde worlde as long as they can (with pressure from Walmart etc). So, hitting the optimum price (eg 99p music) will be hard to do.
10. Oh, I almost forgot, it's got to include DVD Extras as well. Don't short-change us of material.

I think the answer is a pretty affirmative yes to just about all of these questions - including the pre-announced iTV device. Question 8 looks like a "no" but then, as with TV shows, you can back up that way. And with iTV, there is distribution to other TVs. Question 10 is up in the air at this time.

Compared to the train-wreck that is Amazon unboxed (see various non-Apple sites for that), this is a huge announcement which shows they understand what they need to do. Even the $12.99 pre-order price is smart and was not predicted. The other movie studios will be on this within months, as they were with TV.

But with the iPod announcements, Apple has again reimposed its lead. The silly commentary given in recent weeks (when it was already widely reported that there would be new iPods) to other announcements culminating in the ludicrous Observer full page article on iPod "losing its cool" is put in its place. Apple is shipping today higher capacity iPod nanos, that also deal with key objections on battery life and scratching. The Sandisk players trumpeted 2 weeks ago with higher capacity are still not shipping (to my knowledge). The new Shuffle is cute. And the changes to the iPod video are important - especially in terms of pricing. Microsoft now has to find a way to shave another $50 off its Zune player just to keep up. Playback of 640 by 480 videos is another leap forward including H.264 compression. No other media player can do that - as witnessed by Amazon's need to increase download time with a second lower-res file for portable players. Subtle other changes - including input of letters for search presages a whole new range of iPod accessories. And don't forget the iPods are still the smallest devices in each category.

Sure iTV isn't here today, and nor is the iPhone. But with the announcements, Apple has demonstrated a complete end-to-end solution including the home office, the living room, the car and your pocket. No one else has anything like that integration today, nor on the horizon.

Press reaction will be interesting, and I've already seen Guardian commentary that the announcements were underwhelming. I just cannot agree with that at all (as usual) and some of their criticisms seem very offbase.

While I'm not interested in buying movies myself - preferring my DVD rental service for that - I think they've gone about it superbly, and the products on offer allow anyone interested in video - from home movies to video podcasts, to benefit, right down to the TV in the kids room.

My one complaint is the complete failure to deal with the market outside the US. We still don't have TV shows. I think I know where the blame lies, but no doubt many will chastise Apple for that, while at the same time criticising the Apple lock-in (the alternative of course being a far more anti-consumer and poorly integrated Microsoft lock-in).

Update: Here's a link to JupiterResearch Analyst Michael Gartenberg with what he has to say. Spot on Michael.

Great stuff!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

>> I've already seen Guardian commentary that the announcements were underwhelming. I just cannot agree with that at all (as usual) and some of their criticisms seem very offbase.

You don't specify what, though, which is quite a clever way of disagreeing without having to do the difficult stuff, like being specific. Bobbie Johnson and Jack Schofield have also posted followup posts. Perhaps you'll find criticisms in those too.

The key point though is this. You can buy a DVD player for £30. You can join a DVD rental scheme, or just go down to your local library. With those you can watch the films as many times as you like (which is generally going to be once) or just buy the DVD, in which case you have a physical object that you can rip to your HD and watch on your PC etc.

And you'll have a wider choice. And lots of people also have VOD through Sky (which is NVOD) or NTL (which really is VOD). No waiting for the download to happen and hoping your broadband line doesn't crap out (mine runs now at 128K and falls over a couple of times a night).

This all leaves aside the iPods, which obviously are going to sell big. It's the other things - the movies and the "iTV" - which seem like squibs. Unless the movies get a lot cheaper, there's no point bothering. Unless the iTV has a lot more capability, there are other things which do the job just as well or better already, and have been for years.