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Why Apple doesn't see VideoPod as a major opportunity

2004, mac

With the success of the iPod, Apple has found gold in the sunny vales of California once again. Yet, time after time, Steve Jobs has denounced the possibility of producing a video-based iPod, or VideoPod, as it is now generally referred to. Indeed, other companies have started to produce products to do the same (as well as powerful PDAs and phones -- like my Sony Ericsson P900 -- can already play MP4 video clips.

But I think the main reason why Jobs doesn't want a VideoPod is that he doesn't see the need.

The problem is, he's looking at it from an iPod point of view. The iPod is great, and I use it when driving and walking, which (clearly) aren't sensible for watching videos. Thus, he claims, there's no need for a videopod.

Well, there are ways of watching video without needing the screen -- video glasses already exist -- but these are almost certianly impractical for watching movies, and not something that you'd like people to do whilst driving.

But there's a great use for videos, which Steve has yet to hit on -- viewing whilst commuting. I've got a 15" PowerBook that's great for watching DVDs when on a plane or train, but it's just a bit bulky to carry around all the time. But give me a small (3"-5") screen that I can stick in my pocket, and I've got something I can use for any flight. These days, a large iPod would have the capacity to store over 30 hours of programming, so you could carry your favourite video library around for when you are commuting.

And here's why Steve doesn't see the market. He doesn't commute. Like many other Americans, he uses his car to get around the place. And as above, a VideoPod isn't likely to be a hit in a car.

But here, in the UK, we commute. We use trains. We use the underground (that's the subway/metro over here). Franlky, a lot of that time is waiting on the platform for the latest excuse in the wrong type of leaves on the line. All of this wasted time could easily be used to catch up with the latest movie.

But the killer application is not in movies; it's in regular TV. I've got a TiVo (the real deal, not some up-start PVR :-) that regularly records programmes. And frankly, when I get home after my long commute, I end up watching a few too many hours of TV just because I've got to see the news, or the latest Simpsons, or the suggested programmes TiVo thinks I might like to watch. And all of these programmes are sitting across my network in MPEG 2 format, waiting to be watched on a portable device.

Imagine being able to connect your VideoPod to a dock, and have today's programmes downloaded. You could even leave it in the cradle overnight, and have the previous day's programmes transferred for you to watch in the morning commute in rush hour. Heck, I've even set my TiVo to record the news every day (and expires 24h later) so there's always 1 recent news broadcast waiting to be watched. That'd be the first thing on my list of what to watch on the train journey down, then some Simpsons to alleviate the cancelled underground train, and then a documentary on the way home.

So, Steve, just because you don't commute and don't see the potential benefits, there's a lot of people who do. Most of them own iPods. Some of them have PVRs, though we're waiting for a Mac-PVR to come out (and we're using Elgato Eye TV if you're looking to buy out a company). Now all we need is a video playback device with iSync that can suck across last night's TV programmes, and commuting might become less of a drag.

And hey, you can even watch it whilst in hospital.

Update: It seems that the idea of a portable video device has been outed by Creative. I'll be getting a Zen Portable Media Center, and since it plays Windows Media files rather than QuickTime, I'm ditching the latter for my movies. Sorry, Apple, but you're too late.