Driving iTunes Daffy

Three recent events have put me in the Apple-suggesting mood.

The first is that on Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York said that it’s perfectly okay with it if consumers stored recorded television programming on remote servers rather than on a hard drive packed inside their home digital video recorder. Think TiVo. Think storage in the cloud rather than on that TiVo’s hard drive. Think expandable storage. Think Video-on-Demand by another name. Think how much the cable companies love the idea and how thoroughly the networks loath it. You’ve got the idea.

The second is last night’s encounter with my Apple TV. It’s 20 minutes before dinner, my daughter had been good as gold all day, and she sweetly asks “Dada, could we watch a new Daffy Duck?”

“Certainly, my sweet,” was my answer. “I’ll just buy an episode from the iTunes Store and we’ll be able to watch it in less than a minute.”

Provided, of course, that the Apple TV doesn’t choke in the process.

Which it did.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice.

The first two times we simply watched the spinning gear go round and round as the Apple TV claimed it was accessing the iTunes Store. Mashing the Menu button over and over eventually bailed me out of that small slice of Purgatory.

The third time appeared to be a success, as the Apple TV informed me that all I need do is press Play to begin watching Duck Amuck and Rabbit Fire. Which I did.

Again.

And again.

And yet again.

But no, Apple TV had locked up.

I waited for the network activity lights on the nearby Ethernet switch to stop blinking—indicating, I hoped, that the cartoon had finished downloading—and employed what has become a fairly common technique. I jerked the power cord out of the back of the Apple TV while quietly swearing to myself.

After plugging it back in and waiting for the thing to boot up, I checked the My TV Shows listing and—no surprise—the Duck was missing. I requested that the Apple TV check for downloads. Nothing. I ran downstairs to the computer it’s linked with and checked its iTunes library. No Duck. I employed its Check for Purchases feature. No. No. No.

I checked my iTunes Purchase History and, of course, I was now poorer by $1.99 with no Daffiness to show for it.

While hammering the Report a Problem button within my iTunes Account Settings window I happened to glance over at the Applications entry in iTunes’ Source list and event three dawned on me.

When you purchase an application from the App Store, Apple keeps a record of your purchase. Should you need to download it again, you don’t need to send Apple a pleasant little message about your Apple TV woes. You tap the purchase button, you’re informed that you already own the thing, you’re asked if you’d like to download it again, and you take Apple up on that very offer. Done.

So, putting together the pieces:

The most admirable Second Circuit (give ’em a raise to First Circuit, say I!) has deemed that remote storage of media you own is jake by it. (Read: Media companies, go pound sand.) Apple, with its willingness to let you re-download iPhone/iPod touch applications you own, seems to be sympathetic to this way of thinking. So what say we remove this “Report a Problem” hurdle and just let us re-download music, TV shows, and movies we’ve paid for? Apple knows we own it. The content is tied to the devices tied to our Apple ID so piracy is a non-issue. No problem.

What’s that groaning I hear? Bandwidth costs skyrocketing due to people re-downloading movies for the pure joy of it, you say?

I’m not sure how many people find pleasure in watching download progress bars, but okay, let’s say there’s the potential for rampant abuse. How about if we come up with a scheme that benefits Apple as well as its customers? Like so:

You’ve purchased half-a-dozen TV seasons and a handful of movies. You’ve watched them, you’d like to keep them, but they’re taking up a fair amount of room on your hard drive. Burning them to DVD would be a chore—as would restoring them from same—and it’s a drag to have to purchase a hard drive (that could eventually go phffft!) just to archive media.

Suppose Apple had a Web-based suite of services that just happens to offer online storage. Suppose it was worth a damn. Suppose Apple made it worth two damns by offering MobileMe subscribers the option to virtually park some of their purchased iTunes media in this cloud-based storage area. (And by “virtually” I don’t mean uploading it yourself—which you could conceivably do now—but rather providing links to the content on the iTunes servers from within an iDisk iTunes area, and deducting that storage from your account.)

This content becomes available wherever you can glom onto a Wi-Fi connection. (Yes, I’m willing to play nice with AT&T and require that this be a Wi-Fi feature only). If you want a movie you own to play on your iPhone or MacBook, jack into your MobileMe digital media locker and you’re set.

Tout this as a feature of MobileMe and perhaps you draw in more customers. And as those customers begin to appreciate its benefits, maybe they pungle up for more storage. Win me. Win you.

Or don’t. Make it as simple as re-downloading iPhone apps and suck up the cost as penance, you Daffy Duck-denying, daughter-disappointers.

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