Analysis: Taking the Apple experience to video

With the release of the new iPod and upgraded iMac on Wednesday, Apple took what one analyst called “a first step” into the video market. Meanwhile, Apple executives touted the releases as a one-two punch of hardware and software that will allow users to enjoy the same experience with video on their Mac and iPod as they get with music.

“It’s an Apple experience,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of worldwide product marketing for iPod, told MacCentral . “The integration, the hardware, the software; every detail has been thought about.”

The new iPod features real-time decoding of MPEG 4 and H.264 video at 30 frames per second (FPS). Currently you can buy television shows and videos from the iTunes Music Store to play on the iPod, but some had hoped to be able to play DVD movies, as well.

That hasn’t happened yet, but analysts see Apple’s strategy of upgrading the iPod to also play video as a way of getting into the market.

“It’s a first step,” said NPD analyst Ross Rubin. “It makes sense to move into a new market by jumping from a market-leading product like the iPod.”

While Apple’s initial foray into video matches its initial steps with music downloads, there’s one stark difference. When Apple first launched the iTunes Music Store to sell 99-cent music downloads, it did so with the backing of the major music labels. However, in launching the capability to download television programs, Apple did so with only one major network—Disney-owned ABC.

“We only told one network,” Joswiak said. “You see that we have the top two shows on TV, as well as the top shows on the Disney Channel. We couldn't really start off with a better foot forward. This is just the beginning."

Wednesday’s iMac update also brought the release of a new software application called Front Row. Front Row interacts with the remote control that now ships with the iMac. The software can control DVD and iMovie playback, and gives users a way of watching QuickTime movie trailers, as well as music videos and television shows purchased from the iTunes Music Store using iTunes 6.

“There are two stories in this market,” Rubin said. “The first is the ‘dorm room’ application, which gives users the opportunity to enjoy media using their computer from across the room. The second is having more integration with the television—that would be the next step for Apple.”

While the media PC idea has been around for some time, Apple’s Joswiak said that users would notice a difference with the way the company has implemented its solution.

“The concept is one that people get—the ability to enjoy your music, photos and videos from anywhere in your room,” Joswiak added. “It’s all in the implementation and execution. You can see the Apple details—it’s an experience unlike anything else that exists.”

Front Row will only be available as part of the iMac, Apple says. The company has no plans to make it available in other Macs or as a standalone application.

“At this time it’s only on the iMac as part of the integrated hardware software solution,” said David Moody, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Mac Product Marketing. “The goal was to make it as simple as possible right out of the box.”

While the company is trying to match its musical successes with its new efforts in video, executives insist that the iPod remains mainly about music. “Music is front and center on the iPod,” Joswiak said. “What we’ve done is make the experience even better, the product is smaller, it has 50 percent more capacity, it is 30 percent thinner, it’s the same price, and you get this great video capability. In a typical Apple way, we didn’t just provide the capability on the hardware and then say ‘fend for yourself’ on finding the content. We did the complete solution.”

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