Andy IhnatkoSo: It's A Video iPod. Sweet!

by - October 13th, 2005 it is indeed a video-studly iPod. Inneresting. I don't have mine yet -- and I haven't even had my Apple briefing -- so I can't say yet whether or not this is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. If its video features have been implemented as sensibly and reasonably as the iPod's audio features, then a Good Thing is a distinct possibility. Still, I refuse to drop the gun and come out of the house with my hands in the air until I know everything's all right.

See, where a video iPod is concerned I've always been worried about that Purple Cloud of Insanity. It hovers in the super-stratosphere and every time it drifts down to sea level, it causes Humanity to do stupid and bizarre things. Ricky Martin was once a pop superstar. In any major city, there are no shortage of places where you can hand a total stranger $100 and they'll cheerfully stick pieces of metal through your nipples, expecting you to thank them for the service. Know the Cloud; fear the Cloud.

My fear is that the Purple Cloud will work its way into Apple's ventilation system and then all of a sudden, a hitherto reasonable product manager will find him or herself sending an email to all personnel, stressing that is just makes no sense to allow iPod users to install their own video content. Not when Apple can force them to pay up every time they want to see something new, for crying out loud! Remember, this is the company that once put their logo on a video game console and a windsurfer; Apple is no stranger to the Purple Cloud. And in the Bay Area and the Valley, the Purple Cloud is so firmly entrenched that it's received its third influx of venture capital and sixth change in management.

Over the past week or two I've been waffling mightily about the chances for a video iPod. I knew it was coming, but I would have bet money that the iTunes Video Store would have preceded it by at least a few months. The Music Store opened with a quarter-million titles. A mere fraction of its current stock, to be sure, but it was more than enough to light some butts on fire. Compare and contrast this with the Video Store. From my perspective, it contains music videos (which I can't be bothered to watch...even the ones by bands I like), a couple of Disney Channel shows (my juvenile tastes run more towards the Cartoon Network, thank you), "Desperate Housewives" (which I hate), and "Lost."

I love "Lost" -- and friends, does it now make sense that the most important prop of Season Two is an Apple II? -- but I'm avoiding it. It's the same problem I faced ten years ago with "Babylon 5": too many friends whose taste are highly trustworthy are emphatically recommending it, and the two episodes I've seen are way too good. If I stop watching it before I get hooked, I won't need to clear another hour from my weekly schedule.

My hopes are high that "The West Wing" will start tanking again after the election, thus freeing up a slot for "Lost". But until then, there's just nothing in Apple's premiere slate of video content that interests me in the slightest. Can Apple afford to make enough deals -- each one a true landmark -- and broaden Video Store content enough to appeal to such a bizarre and diverse tribe of mammals as the iPod Customer Base?

All of that might be totally irrelevant. If iTunes and the iPod don't care where a QuickTime file comes from so long as it's within the video and audio formats called out in the product specs, Apple has a winner in this latest-generation iPod. I've got a hard drive full of QuickTime movies and TV shows that I've ripped from DVDs and recorded with EyeTV, and the prospect of moving them onto an iPod with a simple clicky-clicky is making my fingers twitch.

And I'm optimistic. One of the smartest things the company ever did was to put a sticker on the screen of every new iPod, politely asking the user not to steal music. It demonstrated a subtle but brilliant understanding of both the digital music market and what a digital music player would need to do in order to make history.

The Understanding comes down to this: You can't prevent music piracy from happening. If you work in the music industry, please read that line again. No amount of technology or lawyers or lawmaking will prevent dishonest people from acquiring music illegally. You can pretend that it will, but in truth, all you're going to do is prevent honest people from exercising their rights as consumers. You can also pretend that consumers will be happy to keep re-purchasing and repurchasing and repurchasing content that they already own, just because they're all terribly offended that the company can't afford to keep your breakroom stocked with complimentary snacks and beverages.

I mean, feel free. But when the Purple Cloud ultimately dissipates, you'll realize that all of your potential customers gave their money to a company and a product with a firmer grasp on reality instead.

All of this worrying is irrelevant for another reason, though: there really is no "Video iPod." There are just...iPods. Essentially, every iPod purchaser gets the video features for free, which, I am now bitterly forced to admit, was the only scenario under which I've said that a pay-for-all-content video feature was even remotely permissible. It's offensive to give a company $300 for a device when that outlay of cash is just the down payment on a lifelong money hole.

That's absolutely not the case here. Even in the worst-case scenario, iPod owners are free to ignore that the video capability exists, and simply enjoy the fact that they can view far greater acreages of photos and track info at once. Sweet.

Over the past two hours, I have mercilessly interrogated all of my friends in the Guild of Macintosh Punditry, and determined that none of them have had any experience with these new iPods that go beyond a few minutes of fondle-time at the rollout event. So obviously, everyone's still eager to take an iPod out of the barn and see what it can do. I'm just glad that Apple staged the rollout in such a way that even now, hours after the thing's been released, I can still get just one more column of video iPod speculation into play. Surely this will leave me in a positive frame of mind when the time comes to review it in print and on TV.

Clever people, those Apple folks.