Yesterday, Apple ended speculation by finally announcing updates to its iMacs, iPods and iTunes software. But after all the hype, should we feel a little let down?
It was supposed to be easy
Let's talk about the new iPod. It has video playback capability on a new, larger 320x240 screen. It's a little wider than the previous version, but slimmer. It supports MPG and H.264 video and comes in 30GB and 60GB capacities.
Everyone was talking about the video iPod - would it come? How would it work? Wouldn't this be the 'killer' app for iPod? In the end, it appears rather anti-climatical. The good news is, it will play videos that you've gotten on your own, rather than downloaded from the iTunes Music Store - only being able to play purchased videos would have been a killer. As it is, you can BYO TV show.
But to me, the industrial design doesn't really work. In a world where HDTV is slowly becoming prevalent, why on earth is the display 4:3, and not wide screen? The rectangular face of the iPod was the perfect surface for a gorgeous wide display - perhaps with something revolutionary like a 'virtual' scroll wheel. Instead, Apple has just added width to the existing iPod design to accommodate the display. It looks, in my opinion, a bit ugly. Fat. Unwieldy.
Are we the waiting?
Alongside the video iPod is a new version of the iTunes Music Store now offering video downloads. Up for purchase, there are music videos, Pixar shorts, and - as long as you are in the US - some commercial programming, like Lost and Desperate Housewives. These are all priced at around $1.99 a pop. The entire first series of Desperate Housewives can be had for $35.
But where is the value? The Housewives can be had on DVD for just a couple of dollars more on Amazon - with all the bonus features, the packaging, the improved video quality - and the wide screen. The cool thing about music downloads via iTunes is that they're cheaper than buying the CD. TV shows, it appears, aren't.
So what about music videos? Those are $1.99 too, or £1.89 in the UK (so we're back to double the price again, then. Thanks, Apple.) But who really wants to sit and watch a music video for entertainment? I might sit at my computer and watch a downloaded episode of Lost. But a music video? Unless it's got Jessica Simpson's butt in it, probably not.
Keep the customer satisfied
But for all the hype and the fanfare, I just don't see the application. I understand video on the move - I really do. The numbers of flights or train journeys I've spent glued to my laptop screen are innumerable. With two batteries and a bunch of rips, torrents or - crikey - actual discs, I can be kept occupied for hours in the midst of otherwise total boredom.
But I have a 15" wide screen laptop. Would I sit for 6 hours glued to my iPod screen? I don't think so. Despite the increased size, it's clearly not big enough to watch a show or a film on comfortably. A music video - yes, I suppose so. I could watch that for a few minutes. But music videos are hardly entertainment. I'm not going to be glued to it for a train journey, unless, again, it's got Jessica Simpson's butt in it.
The incredible success of the original iPod was down to the fact that listening to music is, for most, a passive activity. It's something we do while doing something else. We can do our housework, listen to music. Walk down the street, listen to music. Drive our car, listen to music. The joy of the iPod was being able to have whatever music we wanted with us when we did those things. It was my music, everywhere I was. It still is.
The same can't be said of video. I can't walk down the street watching a video - I'll bump into something. I can't drive and watch video, because I'll crash. There simply isn't the same universal demand or need for video as there was for music. Video isn't the killer app for portable devices. It is, was, and always will be, music.
There's no new killer app for portability coming - only killer devices. The Nano is as close as we've gotten to that killer device so far - enough music for most, in the most obscenely gorgeous industrial design ever conceived. I don't see anything beating that very soon, video or otherwise.
Let us know your thoughts in the forums.