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iTunes and the video market

13th October, 2005

Today it finally happened. Apple has introduced a video capable iPod (not the rumored vPod) and beefed up the iTMS with purchasable music videos. While this service is not available in all countries, this certainly marks a first step towards an iTVS. Backing up that claim is new software called FrontRow, a media center thing bundled with the new iMac (remote included). Very exciting (although I suppose this is the near end for the CenterStage Project, which btw looks a lot like FrontRow only more cluttered.)

Of course, the new features of iTunes 6 (which doesn't really deserve it's major version bump judging functionality) require QuickTime 7.03. In other words, more DRM is needed. It will be interesting to see if Apple can persuade the movie studios into a similar arrangement as they have the music industry. The way I see it, it's mostly a win-win situation for all involved. With one minor flaw that's getting more disturbing every day: FairPlay.

Fairplay is the Apple-developed DRM in use on iTMS and by far presents the best DRM solution I have heard of (in the form that locks down on some actions such as sharing. Obviously pure watermarking for preventive purposes is a better deal for the end user, but the industry wouldn't go for that large-scale) yet. The problem is that Apple won't license their technology, effectively locking down the market, since only their DRM works with the #1 portable music device, the iPod.

While this is understandable given Apples financial need to sell ever more iPods, it certainly becomes a problem when you've grasped 80% of the digital music market. Where are the other Fairplay compatible players? Where are the competitive playable-by-iPod music stores? Given Apples track of supporting open standards (Darwin, OpenGL, Bonjour, WebKit, etc) while pushing emerging ones to the market, it would be disappointing if they diverted from it now. Although there's a long way to go, no one would benefit from another monopoly in the digital world.

I truly believe that small companies, in general and relative to their size, are much better at innovating, spurring competition and thus benefiting everyone around them. Apple would be the crown example of this. One reason for this is that huge companies operate much slower and - perhaps - tend to underestimate the power of a great idea and a couple of dedicated people. Remember, that's how the personal computer saw the light of day after being dismissed by IBM, AT&T, Hewlett Packard and others as a silly idea.

For now, Apple seems to be adding new features to the iTMS almost weekly (the latest I've spotted is customer reviews and Just For You. The latter is a variant of recommended items from Amazon only really bad at it. One would think they have the statistical data with half a billion songs downloaded...).

The sky is still bright, but I see skies in the horizon.

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