Welcome the Video iPod

Originally written for eVent! magazine [ep] on October 13th, 2005.

Okay so I was wrong.  I am, in my own eyes, so rarely wrong that it’s only fair that I cop to being wrong when I am quite clearly wrong.  Apple, despite my predictions, is coming out with a video iPod.  Announced Wednesday October 12th by Apple CEO Steve Jobs the new iPod will replace the current iPod except it’s going to be thinner, have a larger screen and play video.

“No video iPod,” I proclaimed when it was announced that Apple was holding a special event to announce a new product.  “There will definitely be no video iPod.”

My reasoning seemed sound to me.  The success of the original iPod has been built around not only its ease of use but also its ability to play your current music selection with little hassle.  When people went from records to tapes, or tapes to CDs they had to repurchase any must they continued to want to listen to.  The iPod and Apple’s iTunes software allows to turn their CDs into digital music files that play both on the computer and on the iPod.  While the company’s iTunes music store, which allows you to purchase music on the internet and download it directly into your computer, is the most popular legal online download service, most people still have more of their CDs on their iPods than legal music purchases.

The problem a video iPod runs into is that according to American law it is illegal to make a copy of a DVD, even for personal archival purposes.  People with large DVD collections won’t be able to copy them onto the iPod, because Apple needs to stay within the law.  There are ways around DVD copy protection, but they’re not easy and the iPod thrives on being easy to use.   In order to have a video iPod, I argued, there had to be content for it that customers would not need to buy specifically for the iPod.  One of the reasons the Sony Playstation Portable has not taken off is that to play videos on it requires uses to buy a specific format of video (Sony’s own UMD discs) that are as expensive as DVDs with fewer features and won’t play on your TV.

Apple addressed that problem by allowing the iPod to play not only your own home videos, as long as they’re saved in the right formats, but also free video Podcasts that are downloadable from the iTunes store like the hit Video Podcast from Toronto the tech show Command N and now music videos and television shows that Apple will sell through the music store.  Also available will be ABC television shows like Desperate Housewives and Lost as well as exclusive content from Disney and Job’s other company Pixar.  Currently the ABC shows are only available on the American version of the iTunes music store, where they sell for $2.99 an episode.

I’m not convinced that this addresses the content issues for the video iPod.  There are some really cool video Podcasts, but most of them are still fairly low budget less than professional affairs.  While it might be cool to be able to see Dawn and Drew from the Dawn and Drew Show Podcast while they talk, it’s not really necessary.  And while it might be nice to be able to watch a television show on the bus or while waiting in the doctor’s office, again it’s not really going to take off like the original iPod.

There is good news however, the new video enabled iPods, which are replacing Apple’s two higher end colour screen iPods, will be the same price as the older iPods and the lower end iPod has jumped from twenty to thirty gigabytes of storage.  So the iPod should continue to sell like hotcakes, even if the video feature of the device does not yet have the sort of content that makes it a must have. 

Should you buy one?  Well if you’ve been on the fence about whether to get an iPod or to replace an older one you have, then this is a great time to do it because you get a bigger screen and the video features for the same price as the iPod was last week.  It’s also thinner than the last generation of iPods and like the new iPod nano available in black as well as white.