Video iPod, QuickTime, and You

Wednesday, 2005-10-19; 02:48:00

I just realized something. The real genius behind Apple's announcement of an iPod that's capable of video is not the fact that they got ABC to agree to downloadable versions of their hit TV shows for just $2 an episode. And it's not even the supposedly crisp and clear screen that allows you to take your movies where you want to go. It's the fact that this will rapidly push the adoption of QuickTime and H.264/MPEG-4.

Yes, QuickTime has been out on Windows for a long time now, and iTunes has als been out on Windows for about two years now. Since iTunes requires QuickTime, the iPod requires iTunes, and iPod sales have gone through the roof, QuickTime adoption has already been pushed by existing audio-and-photo-only iPods. But this didn't necessarily push the adoption of the native QuickTime video formats, because Windows users likely just used Windows Media Player or RealPlayer for their videos. There wasn't any reason to encode videos in QuickTime format. For Mac users there is, since QuickTime is top notch on the Mac whereas RealPlayer and Windows Media Player suck in comparison.

Remember that the new video iPod ONLY supports the H.264 and MPEG-4 formats. The fact that it doesn't do DivX or MPEG1 or other popular formats means that users will either be forced to reconvert many of their movies to view on their video iPods, or content will start coming out in a format native for the iPod. Once that ball starts to get rolling, it's going to be VERY hard for Microsoft or RealNetworks to combat that threat, and QuickTime will start to be a necessary piece of software for many Windows users. And I have no doubt that the new video iPod will be very popular.

Most computer users are averse to converting their existing songs and videos to new formats until they are very well-established and the status quo. But this isn't a problem for Apple -- new iPod owners will still want to watch video on their iPods (no doubt), but they won't stand for taking the time to convert their movies to the required format. Those users on the bleeding edge who will use their iPods to watch video as much as possible will start demanding content in H.264/MPEG-4. (As far as I know, neither Windows nor RealPlayer natively support H.264. I don't think Windows supports MPEG-4 either, but RealPlayer might, since it does AAC.) That demand will likely turn into an increase in "market share" of H.264 and with it, QuickTime market share. I'm betting that H.264 adoption will be faster since it is superior to MPEG-4 what with the smaller file sizes and higher quality.

For the first time, Apple is in a unique position to really gain some traction with QuickTime on the Windows side of the fence. It's been relatively popular, but not a runaway success. Since the video iPod is likely going to be the first popular portable video player on the market, the video format associated with it is also going to become quite popular. (No, Creative you don't count -- you brought hard drive players to the market first, but got beat by the iPod, and that scenario will play all over again, especially since Apple undercut your price for a portable video player by $100. As for the PSP, it's capable of playing both UMD and MPEG-4/H.264 videos. But UMD disks are annoying since they're non-standard, so the PSP also helps push the adoption of these QuickTime formats. Apple is selling 3 times as many iPods as PSPs, though, and I imagine most PSP users are using it for games, so the PSP really doesn't matter anyway even if it didn't play MPEG-4/H.264.)

And make no mistake about it, but pirated content and pornography will probably drive this revolution. There's a vast market of TV shows and movies up on BitTorrent that come out as soon as they air or are released, and these will likely start to come in iPod-compatible versions too. Same goes for porn.

How does this affect the average Mac user? It means that QuickTime will become more accepted, and Mac users soon won't have to endure as many Windows Media and Real Media files and/or websites. That can only be a good thing.

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