As the Oct. 12 date of the next Apple Computer Inc. Special Event approaches, the Mac rumor mill has divided into two camps, one claiming the event will be the birth of a video iPod, the other placing odds against such a device seeing the light of day.
Analysts, though refraining from making predictions, displayed strong skepticism about a video-playing iPod.
AppleInsider expressed confidence that the announcement will be an iPod that can play video, along with a “major update” to Apples iTMS (iTunes Music Store). This update would enable the store to sell or otherwise feature music videos and “other short video content.”
ThinkSecret, on the other hand, posited merely an update to the existing full-size iPod line, with a larger hard drive, slightly smaller profile and other improvements seen in the recently released iPod Nano.
ThinkSecret said, “Without the agreements or infrastructure in place to deliver movies to customers through a store-like interface, Apple sees little value in releasing such an iPod at this time.”
In addition, the site noted that the current inability to easily import DVDs to a usable format, in contrast to how easy it is to rip audio CDs, would be another bar.
Currently, DVD movies hold multiple gigabytes of data, far too much to be easily transferred over most consumers Internet connections.
Even when transferred to the high-efficiency H.264 codec included in Apples QuickTime 7, these movies are easily over 1GB. In addition, DVDs contain more than just content: Most discs include titles and other interactive features that are not contained in a single media file.
“Apple plays its cards very close to the vest, so I have no indication from them as to what they are announcing,” said Van Baker, the vice president of research for media at Gartner Inc., based in San Jose, Calif.
“That said,” he added, “I am skeptical that it is a video iPod, as that would require them to have the video equivalent of iTunes ready to go, and that is very unlikely.” Baker said the reason the iPod is successful is not just the device, but the combination of the iPod and iTunes software, which is available on both the Mac and Windows platforms.
“I dont think the movie industry or the television industry is ready for a video equivalent to iTunes,” he said, adding that “music videos and video blogs are not enough to drive this category.”
Baker said that the movie and television industries are in a different position than the music industry. The former two, he said, “continue to flood the market with open content” over broadcast and cable television.
And, he said, despite the fact that the CSS (Content Scramble System) that copy-protects DVDs has been cracked, such cracking takes some technical skill and is illegal. As a result, he said, video content hasnt proliferated as much.
There are online movie distribution services already, such as Movielink and CinemaNow, Baker pointed out, but he said they currently offer only older movies. “Its a fine business model,” he said, but doubted that the content could sustain a mass-market device
Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director of JupiterResearch of Jupitermedia Corp., said he is refraining from making any wild speculations. “Well have to wait until Wednesday to see who is correct,” he said. He also expressed skepticism about the possibility that a video iPod will be unveiled.
He did note that there was great significance to the image of a blue jean pocket in the invitation to Apples last special event, at which the pocket-sized iPod Nano and Motorola ROKR phone were announced.
The invitation to Wednesdays event has a background of red stage curtains, similar to those in Apples iDVD DVD-authoring application (or, as some have pointed out, like the curtains in Twin Peaks Black Lodge.)
“There are very few companies other than Apple that can generate so much buzz from an announcement,” Gartenberg said. Still, he cautioned against reading too much into the announcement: “With Apple,” he said, “the more you deviate from mainstream products, such as speculating about an Apple PDA or tablet, the less likely you are to be correct.”
“Thats not to say a video iPod isnt possible,” he added, “its just less likely.”
Gartenberg noted that when talking about a video iPod, “it would be interesting to see how Apple could overcome the lack of legal content.” He said that movies and other video content are not the same, technically, as music.
“Unless Apple has a solution to that problem, its unlikely for Apple to have a product to appeal to a small group of hobbyists,” he said. He agreed that an iPod that could display videos could be used to share homemade iMovie clips, “but thats not mass market,” he said.
“Of course,” he added, “Steve Jobs is also the head of a movie studio.”
“I fully expect that when Jobs says, One more thing, its something of import,” Gartenberg said. Though, he noted, the import may not be because the product is revolutionary. “The iPod Nano was a flash-based player, but it was more than just a flash-based player,” he said. “Even line refreshes can be significant.”