Now that the Wall Street Journal has weighed in on the possibility of a portable video player from Apple, it seems time to toss in my two pennies on what I’d like to see from such a device and the content fed to it.
Size and orientation
Steve Jobs has gone on record saying that he’s displeased by clunky players that don’t easily fit into a pocket. I’m with Steve on this one. Give me a player the size of a Newton MessagePad 2100 and I’ll look elsewhere. If I’m going to use this device for both audio and video, I’d like a device smaller than Sony’s PSP. Seems to me that a device modeled on Palm’s LifeDrive is the better way to go—small enough to pack in a pocket with a display that can be oriented for normal iPod functions (vertical) or video playback (horizontal).
The iPod’s designers have been very smart about not trying to make the iPod all things to all people. Specifically, it’s budged nary an inch from the notion that the iPod is a player (or, in the case of contacts and calendars, a reader ). I expect nothing less from a vPod. Make videos easy to find, provide contrast controls so I can easily see what the device displays under varying lighting conditions, and offer me a way to skip through a video in preset increments (like TiVo, I want to be able to easily jump through commercials), and I’m a happy cat.
Battery life and design
If you’ve used an iPod with the backlight shining constantly, you know how quickly it will burn through a battery charge. A vPod’s battery should last at least through a cross-country plane ride—say five hours minimum. If that can’t happen, Apple’s got to make the device’s battery user-accessible so that I can swap in a new battery when the vPod gives up the ghost halfway through the director’s cut of The Fellowship of the Ring .
The Wall Street Journal story speaks specifically of Apple licensing music videos to sell through the iTunes Music Store.
No one at Apple is dumb enough to believe that a device that plays only music videos is going to conquer the world. While such videos may further enhance the iTunes Music Store (which already carries a selection of music videos), the real prize is making available a comprehensive collection of movies and television programming. Music videos played on a vPod may be an interim step, but before I plunk down my paycheck on such a device, I want to be sure it will play the kind of content I’m interested in.
Specific to television programming, I’m keen on the idea of The Store allowing me to subscribe to television programs just as I now can to podcasts. I’d be happy to offer up a few bucks per episode to never miss an installment of Arrested Development.
In addition to being able to display music videos, movies, and television programming, I’d like to see facilities built into iTunes that allow me to place on the vPod content I’ve created on my computer. The color iPods have shown us the way by allowing us to move pictures stored in an iPhoto library to the iPod and then display them as a slideshow on an attached television. A similar scheme with video and Apple’s iMovie makes a whole lot of sense.
Such a scheme requires that Apple forego any notion of a device that plays video encoded only in some bizarre proprietary format a la Sony’s PSP. I’m cool with videos sold by the iTunes Music Store being protected just as Apple protects the Store’s music, but otherwise, the vPod should be capable of playing any QuickTime H.264 video file (better yet, H.264 and MPEG 4 movie files). Just as I don’t miss the ability to play Microsoft’s .wma files on my iPod, I can live without a vPod that can’t play the more bizarre forms of Redmond’s .avi movies.
This one may be a little sticky for the motion picture industry, but there must be a means for backing up videos you’ve purchased. iTunes currently allows you to back up your purchased music to CD or DVD as an audio CD or data disc. Having the facility to burn a purchased video as a video DVD, playable in a standard DVD player, or data disc is just as necessary.
Oh, I could ask for more—the ability to dump video directly from my camcorder to the vPod via a FireWire connection would be high on my list—but I don’t want to venture into the realm of the impossible. If you have ideas of your own, I’d like to hear them. Use the comments link below for just that purpose.