Slashdot had a piece today pointing to a NY times article about whether the new 5th gen iPod
may have been a mistake. The basic premise is one that many in the press have repeated in recent days that the video capability of the new ipod is in adequate. Frankly I think the whole discusion of the ipod’s video feature is pointless. Prior to this past Wednesday when he announced an ipod that could play video, when asked about it Steve Jobs always said it was a bad idea. He said that the experience of watching video on such a small screen would not be enjoyable. He was right. I also don’t think that very many people will be willing to pay $2 an episode to watch tv re-runs and music videos (actually who would want to pay any price to watch music videos?). In the first few weeks some curious people will surely buy them just to check it out. However, I think that sales will quickly wane. Watching video is a distintcly different experience from listening to audio. You actually have to WATCH the screen. When you are watching video, you generally can’t do anything else. I listen to my ipod in the car when I am commuting to work, when I am sitting at my desk writing code, walking at lunch, reading blogs, cleaning the kitchen after dinner, working in the garden, you get the picture. There have been a variety of digital video players on the market for well over a year. None of them have sold very well. The only portable device that plays video that has sold in any significant numbers is the playstation portable, and that is mainly because it is a great game machine. There have also been portable tvs around for well over a decade, none of which has been particularly succesful, certainly nothing that has done as well as the ipod.
There is also the issue of the copy protection. No big media company will allow their stuff to be sold without some stupid drm scheme. So that means that videos you buy from itunes cannot be burned to dvds (although you can back up the files to dvd for archiving, you just can’t play them on any dvd player). The only place you can watch them is on the computer or ipod. Who the hell wants to pay for video you can’t watch on your tv? This will I think be the deal breaker.
Over time there have been three commercially succesful classes of portable media devices that have sold in huge numbers. The first was the Sony walkman tape player ( and the countless clones). The second was the portable cd player. In both of these cases, the generic clones generally sold quite well because there wasn’t much to distinguish any of the players. Because of the limited capacity, the user interface was not very critical and they were all pretty much the same. The case styling varied a bit but functionally, they were indistinguishable. Then came the mp3 player. They did OK when the first Rio players came out but it wasn’t until the ipod that really high capacity players started to sell in huge numbers.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the 5G ipod will be a failure. Not by a long shot. I think it will sell like gangbusters. It just won’t be because of video. Video is really a non-issue. Video will be one of those features like all the other “extra features” (think fm tuners, voice recording, etc) that most of the other competing players have but that hardly anyone uses. The ipod will sell for the same reason it has always sold. It is just the best digital audio player. The scroll wheel gives it the best control interface of any audio device. For high capacity players you need a interface that lets you easily scroll through long lists of audio files. The scroll wheel works because you can scroll through the list with your thumb without lifting. With the linear touch pads of devices like the creative and iriver players, you have to lift your thumb repeatedly to go through a long list. It just doesn’t work as well. The new version of the ipod has all the virtues of the previous generations (except for the faster firewire interface, now usb only) in an even thinner, better looking package. By making such a big deal about the video stuff, complainers are just whining about something that ultimately I feel will be irrelevant.