It's The Music, Stupid

may 8, 2004

The other Steve (Jobs, I mean) beat me to the punch when he told a crowd of reporters during the iTunes Music Store One Year Anniversary, �It's the music, stupid.� Just that day I was reading all the speculation about what new features would be added to future iPods. The one thing that kept coming up was video. And although I think video on-the-go is cool, I can only agree wholeheartedly with Jobs. When it comes to portable media devices, it is all about the music. I can listen to music while I drive, while I work, while I read, and while I write this article. It is pretty hard to do the same with video. Granted there are times when I thought a portable handheld video player would be quite useful -- especially last year when I was flying across the country almost every week. Being able to take video with me for those trips would have been fun, but it would also have been a pain. With music, I can encode a song and listen to it over and over again. I can mix songs in a playlist to make something different for any occasion. Video is a whole different story. Yes, you can illegally download something from the Internet to watch. But more likely you will want to bring that DVD that you just rented with you to watch. To rip a DVD is not very easy since the movie industry is trying to shut down all attempts to put out software that does it. When you do find a piece of software that does rip DVDs, and you will when you Google it, then the encoding process is a long laborious one -- you do not have to sit there and do much, but your machine will be sitting there transcoding video for a few hours. Or, if the machine is like the RCA Lyra or Archos Video AV320, you can plug them into a tuner and record things off TV. Neither device allow for timed recordings, so you might as well not bother going this route. Also if Apple or anyone producing one of these things wanted to sell content, it would require quite a lot of bandwidth to distribute the video files. Once you do get material, then all that work is not really worth it since video is mostly a watch once medium. How many times can you watch a movie or a episode of your favorite sitcom? Not as many times as you can listen to a song. I have not even mentioned the small screens that these things have. An audio player can be tiny, but a video player has a limit to how small it can get because of the display. Why spend all that time encoding video and watching it on a small screen when, like I did when I was traveling, you can bring a notebook (which most business travelers have to bring anyway) and watch a DVD on a bigger screen? Microsoft and Bill Gates seems to be fixated on the Portable Media Centers which do video and the whole gamut of media. Supposedly, this is the Microsoft version of the iPod, a sort of iPod-killer. But, I doubt that it will work. The first prototypes of Portable Media Center devices look like an ugly and rather large brick. A lot bigger than an iPod because of the screen space needed for video. It is far from an iPod-killer since it is not as portable as it should be and does too many things. People like simplicity and that is what the iPod brings to the table: It does what it does, and it does it well. Given too many options means making a device that is too complex and complicated. Being complex and complicated will not win over converts -- only hardcore geeks and early adopters. Maybe Jobs was aiming his �It�s the music, stupid� comment at Bill Gates who has been trying to muscle his way into the media devices and software business? It is abundantly obvious that Jobs has stolen the spotlight from Gates when it comes to media. We just have to hold on for the ride and see if Jobs can lead Apple successfully and fend off all the upcoming challenges. I hope so, I hope that Jobs and company do not screw up this time (think how they messed up with Lisa and Apple III) and lose their advantage of a large market share.