Thursday, May 27, 2004

Video iPods 

Coincidentally, there were a couple of major announcements today about personal music players. The first was pointed out to me in a comment in an earlier post. Microsoft has made some fleeting non-announcement about a $50 "iPod-killer." Slashdot also picked this up.

I already mentioned my thoughts on this supposed $50 iPod killer in the previous post. The more interesting thing to me is that companies (like Sony) seem to think that a "video iPod" is a good idea. I'm sure a lot of people think they want one of these, too. I can only think that this is an extension of PC-think, where more is better. Steve Jobs has ruled out a video iPod at this point, and rightly so.

The obvious problem is that people experience music and video differently. I might listen to my iPod while at work, while walking around town, or while exercising. Video wouldn't work at all in any of these obvious use cases. Now, there are use cases when you might plausibly watch video, for example, on a long commute, or trip. But I suspect that for most people, the first case isn't enough time to fully watch anything, and the second doesn't happen often enough to justify the expense.

Furthermore, there's a fundamental tension between something watchable (large screen) and something portable (lightweight and small). The iPod is really useful because you can carry it around everywhere; it's so small and light that my cellphone and keys usually feel bigger and heavier in my other pocket. (And I don't even have a Mini). Furthermore, driving a fast-refreshing backlit color LCD display takes way more battery power, and decoding compressed video takes way more CPU, so the device will have to be way heavier to let you watch a decent amount. Oh yeah, heat problems? I doubt that the combination of fewer opportunities to watch it, and the difficulty getting the size right it is going to draw a lot of people. (Not nobody, just not enough to be worth it).

Another angle that I don't see a lot of talk about is what the heck you're supposed to put on this thing if it ever happens. You're not supposed to rip your DVDs (as if you'd want to watch your DVDs on this thing). Broadcasters are trying as hard as they can to lock everything up with broadcast flags and so forth. They don't seem likely to be cooperative in supplying content at this point. There are a few small legal movie download sites, but they don't seem too realistic at this point. The mp3 player is compelling because it lets everyone take their existing CDs and put them on. (This is probably a historical accident, since the record industry never put the flimsiest of plausible "anticircumvention devices" on CDs). Are people just supposed to buy digital copies of movies they have on DVD?

Everyone has DVDs, and portable DVD players haven't really taken off. I doubt adding video to what is basically an iPod is going to really sell people. There are more interesting directions to take the iPod concept in. That said, I imagine that Steve Jobs actually has some interesting video device in the works. I just don't think that it's something like an iPod that displays video. Given Apple's recent string of incredibly great consumer products, I hope it'll be something much more interesting.

Well, there was a point certain CDs had a crappy anti-copying device on them (random "errors" on the CD made most computers reject them, but most CD players accept them)... but it was the "most" aspect that destroyed it. The holder of the "CD disc" format label (Sony?) said that such CDs should not be allowed to even have that label if they had random errors like that.

It is funny that I thought a portable movie player would be a great idea, until I thought about it; and similarly how I thought that a lo-fi color camera on a cellphone was a bad idea, until I thought about it. I just want a PocketPC cellphone with wifi and a camera: I could acutally use every feature. (Ideally it would be a JussPress.com style where I snap the picture and it's immediately on my blog or photoalbum.)
I don't even think they sell a battery that could power all the hardware you need to play movies for 2-3 hours for $50. My iBook has a pretty heavy battery and can last about 3 hours playing a DVD and it heats up. Now granted it has to spin a drive, but still... I don't think people would want this thing. It's really not all that useful. You can't really watch a movie on the subway, while working out, while walking down the street. It's been said before that music is great for portability because you can do other things while listening; not so with a movie, really. We sit down and turn the lights off to watch a movie. It's just not that portable of a concept.

Now picture an iPod with a color screen and a built in camera.

That's portable, and it'd be hot. Sony is real good at making small digicams. Throw a hard drive on their DSC-T1 and you've got a rather big screen (for sharing photos) 5 megapixels (for taking photos) and, say 5gigs of storage (for your Sony music) and if you can sell this for $300 you've got something with a little bit more appeal than an iPod alone.

I think that could take off, maybe not as quickly and broadly as the iPod, but camerphones already outsell digital cameras, so why not slap that hot tech onto another hot tech and see what happens. That's surely not a $50 iPod killer, but it'd compete fairly well, I think.

Me, I'll keep my iPod and lug around my old digicam for awhile yet.

PS- I linked from Cult of Mac. Nice blog.
Whenever I try out an aquaintance's iPod I push a lot of the buttons and they always say "hey, you're messing it up!" or "don't turn up the volume so loud!" I think you could say that people are 'touchy' about thier iPods.
Re: Video ipod....

I think people are missing a hidden gem about the idea of a video ipod. I have a 40 gb ReplayTv and a 20gb ipod. They seem a natural match to be able to connect, so I could take the stored video content via the ipod to watch anywhere I want. After all, first and foremost, both devices are hard drives.
It's not about watching on a tiny screen. It's about having the information you want, anywhere you want it, regardless of the type of media.---sirdonic
you and i were talking the other day about how i had seen something for a device like that, and here we go:


it's called the taz, made by tight systems. you can download your tivo content onto it and watch video on the go with a 9-hour charge battery, as well as listen to mp3's either on the dockable portable player, or right from the 60-gig drive in the device.

and it looks damn sekC (no wonder playboy listed it in their hot items section this month).
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