Life With Alacrity

A blog on social software, collaboration, trust, security, privacy, and internet tools by Christopher Allen.

Apple, AirVideo, and Immersive vs Ambient Media

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I was reading on Slashdot a discussion about iTune 4.8 and its new capability to purchase videos from the iTunes Music Store, when I read two things that just made me say "duh" with their obviousness, yet I'd never thought of them before.

Both of these "duh" moments were inspired by the comments by an anonymous Apple engineer with the handle As Seen on TV:

Everybody's wrong about the video iPod thing. A video iPod would be a dumb idea for lots of reasons, some technical, some psychological. If you want to know where we're going with video playback, look not to the iPod but to its considerably less famous little brother, AirPort Express.

He didn't explain himself further, but I grokked it immediately. The current Airport Express already offers digital output of audio in a feature called "AirTunes". It isn't much of a stretch to believe that they could add the capability to offer video. If they added a dedicated H.264/MPEG4 decoder chip to the Airport Express, you could just plug in an HD-capable monitor and offer internet delivery of video and movies. The bandwidth wouldn't be an issue, as you are talking only 2 Mbps for the most popular HD compressed format, and even the full resolution 1080i compressed only requires 8-9 Mbps -- all of which will fit amply the bandwidth available to 802.11g. Thus "AirVideo".

"As Seen on TV" continues with more insights on Apple's strategy:

And the iPod is not repeat not gonna say it one more time not meant to be a video-playback device. It’s not even remotely designed for it. The iPod has a tiny hard drive that’s designed for embedded applications, and a 32 MB (I think it is) RAM buffer cache that’s optimized for dealing with song-sized chunks of data. That’s about 4 MB. Even a half hour of HD content is gonna be half a gigabyte. There’s basically no way for the iPod to play that without constantly keeping the hard drive running, and that will burn out the drive very quickly. Seriously, under constant use, the iPod hard drives’ life spans are measured in tens of hours.

(How can we do photos, then? Easy. Photos are even smaller than songs. And unlike video, people often do want to carry photos around with them. Keep reading.)

Remember when I said the problem was part technology and part psychology? People like to listen to music while they do other things: Ride on the train, exercise, shop. People like to multi-task with their music.

Video, whether short-form like TV or long-form like movies, isn’t like that. Video is an immersive experience. You sit down and you watch it, and you don’t do anything else until it’s over. That’s a totally different interaction model than music.

So there’s basically zero reason for video to be portable. You’re not going to carry it around with you. You’re going to watch it at home.

Exceptions? Sure. But Apple isn’t a company that makes a habit of marketing to the exceptions. We shoot for a pretty clearly defined target market and let the exceptions buy their gadgets somewhere else. Chiefly because there aren’t nearly enough exceptions out there to make it worth going after, financially speaking. We’d never be able to recover what we invest in R&D and design by selling a few hundred thousand units. We have to sell millions of units per quarter, otherwise the business plan just doesn’t work.

This all made sense, but it this comment that brought it home:

All you have to do is pay attention to the way people interact with their media. The difference between immersive media and ambient media jump out at you immediately.

I'd guess never really understood intuitively the concept that there are really two major media types: ambient and immersive. Now that I understand it, it seems obvious. I just never internalized the difference. Yes, sometimes TV is an ambient media, sometimes music is immersive, but only rarely. As I think about it more it makes me wonder about other types of ambient vs immersive media, such as games.

I'll close with more last quote from "As Seen on TV":

I know you’re going to say I’m being a dick here, but I’m going to give you the pure, unvarnished truth:

Neither Apple’s management nor Apple’s shareholders give a shit about what the “alpha geeks” think.

I know, I know. It’s harsh. But it’s absolutely true. See, the “alpha geeks” are not our market. We don’t sell to them. The “alpha geeks” are defined by one key characteristic: they’re irrational. Now, I’m not trying to insult you. I mean it literally. Geeks are not rational. They base their purchasing decisions on things that, from a rational point of view, just don’t make any sense. Things like politics, lack “openness,” like “customizability.” Things that just don’t add up in the cost-benefit analysis.

That’s fine. That’s totally legitimate. But it’s not our business.

We sell products to people who want them to work. We don’t sell products to people who want to take them apart. There are other companies that do that. We don’t seek to dominate them or to put them out of business. We don’t see them as competition at all, because the kinds of people who buy our products would never buy a motherboard. They’d never buy Linux. Never in a million years.

Is there some overlap? Sure. We love the fact that some prominent hard-core geeks use Macs. But we’re not going to abandon our business plan to woo them. We’re not going to turn our backs on the vast and untapped market for next-generation content delivery services, a market which we basically created, in order to please some Internet message board guys.

Again, I’m sorry for sounding so harsh here. I don’t mean to be rude. I’m just not going to sugar-coat it for you. You do your thing, whatever makes you happy. We’ll do ours.

Comments

Very well put. I'd never thought about it that way before - but it makes a lot of sense. Wireless video.

Trevor

URL: the ambient and immersive stuff is very similar, if not the same as, some of mcluhan's theories on media

Jeff

Simpsons Did It! ...errr... I mean... Sony. x2 read... exhibit A) The Location Free Television - http://www.sonystyle.com/is-bin/INTERSHOP.enfinity/eCS/Store/en/-/USD/SY_DisplayProductInformation-Start?ProductSKU=LFX5&Dept=tvvideo&CategoryName=tv_LocationFreeTVs exhibit B) Media Roomlink - Which was an older product as well.. http://www.sonystyle.com/is-bin/INTERSHOP.enfinity/eCS/Store/en/-/USD/SY_DisplayProductInformation-Start?CategoryName=acc_PCAccessories_roomlink&ProductSKU=VGPMR100U&INT=sstyle-cpu_accessories-catpfeature-VGPMR100U

Dranore

The "ambient vs immersive" stuff is not new - it was what Steve Jobs called "background vs foreground activity", a point he made when called to comment on the possibility of video iPods, about a year ago or so. (That said, this is an important and useful rule.) As for this paragraph: "And the iPod is not repeat not gonna say it one more time not meant to be a video-playback device. It’s not even remotely designed for it. The iPod has a tiny hard drive that’s designed for embedded applications, and a 32 MB (I think it is) RAM buffer cache that’s optimized for dealing with song-sized chunks of data. That’s about 4 MB. Even a half hour of HD content is gonna be half a gigabyte. There’s basically no way for the iPod to play that without constantly keeping the hard drive running, and that will burn out the drive very quickly. Seriously, under constant use, the iPod hard drives’ life spans are measured in tens of hours." Disclosures: 1. I couldn't care less about a video iPod at the moment 2. I don't think these have a chance of success as it is But, that said, why's he mentioning HD along with the iPod? Do I *have* to view the videos on my iPod in my HD format? What's wrong with compressed/lossy formats? Do you *have* to listen to your tunes in uncompressed (WAV/AIFF) format when using your iPod? Sure, we won't achieve tiny filesizes when compressing video, but we won't be near HD-territory either. If you take this under consideration, this argument of his carries much less weight.

Konstantinos

I've not purchased one, but now I'm quite curious about the level of movie immersiveness when using the Sony PSP http://www.us.playstation.com/psp.aspx -- Sony is reportedly going to be offering 70+ movies for the PSP. If the experience is sufficiently immersive, then maybe that is the form factor for a "video iPod".

Christopher Allen

URL: ok, let´s put two and two together then. see here: http://www.macobserver.com/article/2005/05/10.18.shtml and then you know: instead of vidpod, think vidpad. this also explains why the first h.264 videos (consider them test videos) are being run through itunes (not iphoto) - it's well integrated with airport...

Philip R

You don't have to watch videos on your videom iPod in HD, but files compressed down to iPod file size (< 10Mb) are going to be really, really crappy for any non-trivial piece. I watched an iTMS video in small size and frankly, it was a chore. One thing interested me: "We sell products to people who want them to work." Hm. Apple certainly sells iPods to people who want them to work. I reckon there's a large percentage of Mac owners who are power users, as compared to Wintel PCs and iPods (even ignoring the business space - we're just talking consumers here).

Small Paul

URL: Apple also tends to put images of products its pushing in the itunes installer, and this revision happened to feature airport express, at least for me.

Gnubardt

It's pretty obvious that regardless of what they call it Apple will offer a portable video player at SOME point in the future. Do people want to watch video content on the go? Other technology companies sure think so. Even cell phones are starting to be able to display low-res video. Sprint just launched a new campaign for NBC to go, etc. And now the PSP brings high-quality video on the go in a small package. I watch videos on my Palm Tungsten more than I do on my laptop due to its portability. I can compress PVRed video from the night before while I'm in the shower and watch the shows on my Palm while I'm on the train. I'd love to have something that was a little more robust in terms of video decompression (i.e. with a dedicated hardware GPU that could decompress Divx on the fly) and Palm's new "Lifedrive" 4Gb model will work pretty well for my needs, I think, but a 100Gb video iPod would be even better if they could dedicate hardware to video encoding/decoding. HD is still years away from a portable because the small screen resolutions are still pretty low. The PSP seems about the best portable video has to offer at this time, but there are other portable media center devices that also work well. And the sales of those little portable DVD players with screens are through the roof. So Apple can't be blind to the fact that people do want video on the go.

Jough Dempsey

Portable video has a mass appeal and not just to alpha geeks, but the ambient/immersive distinction does make sense. Would also be nice if it had better games them pong!

Timewarp

Whether Apple will choose to go there in the near future, I don't know, but as for this statement: "You sit down and you watch it, and you don’t do anything else until it’s over. That’s a totally different interaction model than music." I think this is a little short sited, all told. The reason we have that model is that we've never had portable video devices. There are already ways to extract information from our environments with digital cameras [1], why should we assume there will be no new applications of portable video? [1] http://www.hpl.hp.com/news/2004/apr-jun/beyond_film.html

Patrick Hall

I hope this blog does not mind I 've a put an extended post at http://blog.startup.gr/blog/_archives/2005/9/10/1214941.html which can serve as a comment on this post. Have a look

startup

orginal layout