Saturday, October 22, 2005

Oh No! I'm Addicted To iTunes Video!

On Video Wednesday, when Steve Jobs launched the new iTunes video download store section, I went to take a look. What I found were the much-hyped 'Lost' and 'Desperate Housewives' episodes the whole world was already jabbering about. But... surprise! There were the first two episodes of an all-new series I had intended to begin watching... but, I had gotten busy it seems, and had completely overlooked the series launch. Yessir... I was tickled to hand over my $1.99 per show to grab the two episodes of 'Nightstalker' that I had missed.

Well, the next Thursday night I was out and about, away from home as the air time for 'Nightstalker' approached. For a moment I considered hotrodding it through traffic to the house, to try and catch the show. Then, I realized I didn't have to bother. I could just download it from the iTunes site the next day! And, that's what I did. I watched that Nightstalker episode while eating at Krystal on Friday afternoon. Hmmm... sounds like the seed of a possibly huge behavioral change, eh?

This Thursday night, I was at home, in front of my 30-inch Cinema Display, with my ElGato eyeTV 200 set firmly to ABC. Not only did I watch Nightstalker in real-time, I also recorded the show into a Quicktime file. Job done... right?

Yesterday and today I've had this nagging voice in my head telling me that I had a nice start on a commercial-free collection of Nightstalker episodes, that one was now 'missing.' So, guess what? I have now gone back to iTunes, like a junky needing a fix, and have paid $1.99 to download Thursday night's show... the one I had actually already watched, as well as recorded.

Am I the only one out here acting this way? If I am not, then Apple has a much, much more powerful business model started here than a lot of people have realized.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It's Not iPod Video. It's iTunes Video.

Since last Wednesday's video-centric announcements from Apple, the mainstream press has been printing itself silly with commentary. It's interesting to me to note just how few of these professional writers seem to completely understand the actual implications of Apple's group of announced products and services.

For instance, have you noticed that nearly all of the writers have felt some obvious urge to make their opinion known about 'people watching video on an iPod?' Very interesting... as these people are uniformly missing the bigger idea here: Apple intends for us to watch videos, not on our iPods, but on or through our Macintosh computer. Sure, people 'can' synch all those little video clips onto their precious iPods. But, that's not the main point in Apple's agenda.

Video On Demand, Apple Style

As more content becomes available in the 320x240 resolution H.264 iTunes video format... everything from cult TV shows, concert reels, and, yes, porn... more and more folks will begin to have larger and larger libraries of readily available content, sitting right there on their Mac, for instant access. That's got to drive some behavioral changes in at least a few folks. And, it's going to become a wee bit addictive for others.

Frankly, I'm not prescient enough to predict exactly where this thread of new reality will eventually lead. But, I do know this: So far, I have bought 4 TV shows from iTunes, and have converted several of my preexisting video files to the iTunes format. And now, in less than a week, I am already programmed to carry around the predisposition to consider iTunes for a variety of 'video' related uses. 7-days ago, iTunes meant 'music.'

I was talking with a lady today in Spain. She's been buying Desperate Housewives episodes from iTunes.

And that, folks, is called 'change.'

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why Apple Has Added Video To iPods

During Wednesday's press unveiling of the new video-capable iPods, Steve Jobs said something pretty fascinating: “Because millions of people around the world will buy this new iPod to play music, it will quickly become the most popular portable video player in history.”

In that one sentence is the key to what is about to be a huge business model shift at Apple. Until now, Apple has carried the iTunes store as an essentially break-even proposition intended to help promote the sale of iPods. We are about to enter an era where that shifts. Apple is about to start making money from iTunes, by reversing the formula with video sales.

Note that Apple did not introduce a higher-price 'video version' of the iPod, positioned above the music models. They launched a new line of music models that just happen to also play video. The efffect will be just as Jobs explained. Everybody who now buys an iPod will have video capability, whether they use it, want it, or even realize it is there, or not. Millions of video capable iPods will now begin insinuating themselves into the lives of customers around the world.

Instead of waiting until all of the back room deals could be made to launch a full-blown commercial movie/video download area in iTunes, and then hoping that critical mass of material would begin enticing people to buy compatible iPods, Apple has gone the other way. They are going to create a critical mass of video-ready iPods in the market, and then steadily add more and more paying video content to the iTunes store.

What will happen is that Jobs will soon be able to meet with a movie company executive, sit down to talk, and start the conversation with, "Well... our 8.3 million video iPod owners would sure like to be buying your movies..." Or, 11.5 million... or, any number of millions. That is the real reason Apple has gone ahead and brought video capabilities to 'normal' iPods.

Doing this has just paved the way to get much quicker and broader licensing in place for additional video content for the iTunes store. And that, folks, is very, very clever of Apple.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Perfect In-Car iPod Music System

After three years of trying every iPod connection product on the market, experimenting with developing my own products, and, pondering just what would make for the absolute best way to listen to my iPod in my car, I've had a revelation of sorts. You see, I realized it is not "my iPod" want to listen to in my car; it's my favorite music from my iTunes library... iPod, or not.

The latest car I bought has a high-end Bose sound system option, with an in-dash CD player. Earlier tonight, I burned a CD-ROM of an iTunes playlist I made with my highest rated 200 songs (in MP3 format), took it out to my driveway, stuck it in that CD player, and... wow! It turns out the thing has a scrolling playlist display, shows complete ID3 tag information for the songs, and, it sounds amazing. It was such a striking experience that I fired up the engine and went out to just drive around and enjoy my new-found toy for almost an hour.

So, that's the perfect iPod in-car sound system: no iPod at all. Just buy a car with an MP3 capable CD player, burn a few hundred tunes to CD, and play them back from the disc. If that's not enough tunes, then burn a few discs and put 'em in your center console. No adapters, no FM hiss, no dangling cables.


Friday, October 07, 2005

Samsung-Apple Deal Deeper Than Recognized?

While I stopped publishing my Apple rumor site, MacWhispers, almost two-years ago, my daily business activities keep me in constant contact with a wide range of Taiwan and China based manufacturers. Basically, I hear things. And, what I have been hearing more and more the past couple of weeks leads me to think that Apple's recent scaling up of involvement with Samsung is a lot bigger deal than simply contracting for good NAND flash memory pricing.

Apple Embraces Flash Memory

My friends in the orient (I will refrain from calling them 'sources') have been filling my ear with all sorts of info about strange disruptions in the flash memory market, all openly attributed to 'upcoming products from Apple.' Samsung has just shown a prototype of a tiny flash memory storage notebook computer. The wire is all atwitter with murmers about new Powerbooks and video devices and wireless devices coming from Apple. Tie the ideas together with Apple's sudden access to high-end flash memory at over 40% below market pricing, and... well, you can see some very interesting possibilities.

Flash Memory Is Very, Very Small

Flash memory has two major characteristics that differ from disk based storage. Flash is smaller; and, it uses much less power. When viewed against two simple questions, this quickly shines light on what Apple is about to bring to market. Those questions are: What device types now made by Apple could be radically improved by reducing size and power consumption? And... What completely new types of devices might make commercial sense, if they could be smaller and lower power than possible with hard drives? A number of answers come to mind, with the ones here best matching up with the loose talk I've been picking up from my China buddies.

Video iPod? "Think Different"

While the world argues about whether Apple is about to launch a video capable iPod, I will make the risky prediction that it's not whether Apple will launch such a device, but when they will launch a video capable iPod. With the Samsung deal in place, Apple can drop a couple of miniaturized video models into the $400 to $600 space, using 16GB or 32GB of flash memory, rather than a hard drive. Combined with some clever file compression and streaming details (based around the H.264 standard), such pencil-thin iPods could deal with dozens of music video type clips, several SD-quality movies, or, even a couple of HD-quality movies. Imagine a 2.5" x 4" full-screen video player, the thickness of the iPod nano.

The Powerbook nano?

When Apple gave us the 12-inch Powerbook, a steady stream of voices began a chant for an even smaller Powerbook, one handy enough to carry with little more effort than a day planner. The Samsung deal, and the availability of 8GB (and, rumored 16GB) NAND flash chips are still too small and pricey to replace HDD storage in notebooks. However, continuing declines in pricing and increases in capacity to hit a crossover point within 5-years that will give Apple the chance to hit that glorious techno-marvel sweet spot that they love to hit with any all-new product. Imagine a small, fully-functional Powerbook the same thickness as an iPod nano, with an 11" to 13" widescreen display, and 64GB to 128GB of flash, instead of a hard drive. Toss out the normal hard disk drive, and this form factor suddenly becomes very buildable. In not too many years it will be possible at under $1,000. That's when Apple will leverage their then massive flash memory channel strength and do it.

Airport Extreme Extreme

Streaming video from a player device to other playback devices in a home is not a real-time process. Some delay is acceptable, just as the 2 to 3-second delay in streaming music over Airport is accepted. But, video streams are much fatter than music streams... even SD video. And, decoding a video stream is a massive chore compared to decoding music. Current Airport Extreme models lack the horsepower for the job. The solution? AE models with better processors, and with (you guessed it) onboard flash memory buffer storage, and multimedia decoding/transmission functions.

The Mythical Apple Mobile Phone

My final conjecture here is that the deep commitment Apple is making to its flash memory supply signals broad internal development within Apple aimed at -- yes -- flash memory based mobile devices. In a big way. In fact, in a way bigger than likely forward growth of only the iPod platform would support. This leads to the question, "What other mobile device could sell in large enough numbers to drive Apple's commitment to lock up its mobile memory device supply? The only practical answer is "phone." When? Who knows? ... when Apple can get it right, that's when, no sooner. But if there's ever been an indicator that Apple really actually is developing a mobile phone, it is these moves in its flash memory channel.

Flash Devices. Fact Or Fiction?

Are flash-based video iPods, Powerbooks, and home media streaming devices actually about to be announced by Apple? Only Steve jobs and his cronies know for certain. But, if I've tallied the realities and the whispers correctly, my prediction is that at least two of these will be shown in the not too distant future. If so, I'll be at the head of the line, credit card in hand, to buy one of the new iPod video players...and, someday, a flash-based MacBook, and an Apple mobile phone.

Big Flash Future

One thing is clear from the channel indicators: Apple is making a huge, huge internal commitment to mobile devices. If I am right, I wouldn't doubt Apple soon becomes the world's number one buyer of flash memory.

And, wouldn't that be a kick in the pants?