Video iPod? Really? You Sure?

Granted, this is still naught more than a rumor, but it seems increasingly credible. I forgot where I read it, but I recall some coverage of Microsoft vowing not to lose the portable video player market to Apple like they obviously feel they have the portable music player market.

I see only one problem with portable video…

…Does anybody really want to watch this content on these tiny, postage stamped screens? Honestly? Granted, a lot of the content currently being pushed out through existing offerings, like Vcast, are short clips, either music videos or movie trailers, as opposed to television length or feature length material.

Still, how compelling an experience can such a small screen provide? With audio, it isn’t diminished by delivery through headphones. If you are willing to spend more, you can get some amazing sounding headphones. In some countries, you can even get surround sound headphones. All without really adding that much bulk, without eroding the portable aspect.

With existing technologies, I just don’t see how we can achieve the same thing. Even a six inch screen takes the player out of the same class as current audio players and starts to go past the PDA into something approaching a sub-sub-notebook sized device.

Think about the so called portable DVD players already out on the market. Marketing around these devices seems to be pushing them as a travel solution, for flights or RVs. You don’t see any dancing or roller skating silhouettes lugging devices that large. In episode #4 of my podcast, I make a case for the kinds of display technologies that might enable a video iPod. If genuine portability is a requirement, as it seems to be, new technologies seemed to be required to preserve the compelling features of video.

You also have to wonder about the difference in file size for video content. This may be a driver around the brevity of current and planned offerings. But how much disk space will the video iPod really need to have to be successful? Say 2Gb, optimistically for a feature length file. OK, so maybe 30 DVDs isn’t so bad, but that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room to drive new sales.

Again, I don’t remember where I read it, but I recall someone commenting on the fact that one plausible explanation for dipping DVD sales might be that most consumers have finished converting or building their core library. One business reason for a video iPod would seem to be to drive new sales, through new channels and a new user experience. But I would suggest a requirement for success for a video iPod would be the ability to rip your own movies (hm, but that’s illegal) just as you can rip and collect your existing CD library onto a single device.

This suggest that not only does the video iPod need room for your existing library, but head room for reasonable growth through iTMS and similar, new video services. Maybe that’s a flawed analogy, considering the DMCA, but I would like that capability, personally, to have my entire video library with me, wherever I go, just like I have with my music. I doubt I am alone and I’m sure Apple has some understanding of this phenomenon.

And how about the bandwidth needs for video through iTMS? At even 500Mb a pop, well, that adds an appreciable acquisition cost in time, even on DSL or cable. Maybe for those that two to five minute clips are satisfying, this is not a concern. Maybe I am underestimating that audience, but even if there is a decent customer base for shorter clips, how long can that fuel product adoption and growth?

I guess, for me, it boils back to a question about this being more of a business requirement, to bolster failing business models, than a customer demand. If the entertainment industry was interested in customer desires, the DMCA would never have come into existence.

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