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.