My Greatest Wish for Macworld: Video

by Hadley Stern Jan 14, 2008

My first Macworld was in, I think, 2002 and was in New York. Greg Ng and I went together and since it was the beginning of the end of the East Coast Macworld it was a little bit of a dud. The big introduction was the new un-round Mouse. Everyone in the keynote got one on the way out. I still remember live-blogging it for Apple Matters. This was before Engadget. Before Gizmodo. And before all the other blogs that have popped up that now live-blog. Of course the server crashed, but it was still a lot of fun to have people from all over the world reading it.

So now I sit here in Boston the day before heading out to San Francisco (please don’t snow too badly tonight!) with thoughts of iTunes movie rentals, iPhone 2.0s, and a super-mini Macbook going through my head. If attending Macworlds all these years has taught me anything, it’s that you never ever truly know. I have been to Macworlds where everyone was so certain The Next Big Thing would be introduced, only to hear of a rehashing of how great current products are. And I have been to keynotes, like last year’s (so weird how the iPhone wasn’t even public this time a year ago!), where The Next Big Thing Came.

What would I like to see on Tuesday? Well, there are two parts to this. One part is what I personally would like to see, and the other part is what I think Apple has to do in order to grow and continue to compete. Let’s focus on what I think Apple has to do.


Right now the Apple TV is on its last legs? Why? Well, when Apple released the iPod they had a few years before they got to selling music through the iTunes Music store, which was fine. The business and industry wasn’t there yet. The only (legal) way to get music on your iPod was to rip your cds and transfer the files. Then came the next evolution in the iTunes/iPod experience, being able to buy songs directly from iTunes and, within one very easy to use interface (unlike the Amazon music store), seamlessly transfer your songs to your iPod, or listen to them throughout your house using Airtunes.

Let’s compare this to the experience with the Apple TV. Ripping DVDs, apart from being illegal, is a cumbersome, slow process. You can buy movies and TV shows from the iTunes Movie store but the selection is limited, and, in the age of Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, 1080p, and surround sound you get a stripped down experience. Most people can’t tell the difference between a song encoded at 128bit and a compact disc (audio snobs aside), but anyone can see the difference between a so-called high dev movie from iTunes in stereo sound and a Blu Ray in 1080p.

In the meantime, the video experience at home has changed dramatically in the past two years. There is this curious thing called On Demand (in HD as well) which cable providers have been rolling out. And consumers are now time-shifting their viewing experience with Tivo and other DVR-solutions. We are only a few short years away, I believe, from all video content being available on-demand. DVDs and even Blu Ray will be gone, replaced by either purchasable digital downloads or rentals.

Within this landscape the Apple TV is a non-player. It isn’t a DVR. It cannot connect to any On-Demand content. About the best thing you can do is buy some TV shows and movies.

What can revive the Apple TV?

Rentals. Rentals. Rentals.

Netflix is about to move heavily into the digital video rental space, and guess what, they have a huge list of customers who are ready. The best thing Apple could do is make a deal with Netflix to offer movie rentals on the Apple TV. If Apple cannot do this the next step is to do it themselves, but they have to do it right. Movie rentals should be at least DVD-quality with surround-side. 1080p would be ideal in order to compete with the emerging platform in high-definition video, Blu-Ray. The interesting story Apple has is integration with not only video in the living room but with the most popular portable devices, the iPod family. This is a compelling advantage over the competition and one that Apple should take advantage of. One rental that you can watch on your TV, on your iPhone, or on your iPod.

This is my hope for Macworld. Sure, a great super-slim notebook would be awesome. But in the context of what Apple needs to do to stay alive in the media industry, a real movie experience on the Apple TV is it.


  • Naah, Apple shouldn’t make deals to let Netflix pipe video through AppleTV.  Apple should BUY Netflix.

    tundraboy had this to say on Jan 14, 2008 Posts: 132
  • Hadley, your first Macworld was in 2000, in NY—I know this because we went together. You were called back to Boston early, but you did get to go for at least one day, didn’t you? Steve introduced the Cube at the keynote, and everyone received an optical mouse under their seat (like on Oprah.) The mouse even came in a special edition Macworld NY box. (cd)

    Chris D had this to say on Jan 14, 2008 Posts: 1
  • I have to agree with you Hadley.

    Video is and was a major step for Apple.
    The niche market of early days with graphic design, laser printers - Aldus, Macromedia and Adobe slowly distanced themselves from Apple.

    Apple made it very clear that video was the next niche, the next market that they would take on. To some degree I feel they have. Perhaps in producing, editing and encoding - the G5 made this quite obvious.

    BUT NOW it’s Video for Entertainment that is a TRUE requirement to seal the Mac and iTunes as a successful platform and successful store. To offer the goods it was initially made to do. What’s a iPhone or iPodNano without a Hollywood selection.

    So yes… Apple needs to provide on this side of the promise. And it seems to be AN extremely key moment now with the pressure of some Music and Video ALREADY departing from iTunes. Amazon may become a truly strong a fair competitor now that DRM has been lifted. Can Steve eventually do the same for Video?

    I got to say, Apple BETTER have a good plan up their sleeves.
    And IMO, a sub-notebook right now… a device without the need for any wires, is less of a priority.

    Dougless had this to say on Jan 14, 2008 Posts: 4
  • I’d like to see them do a deal so that we can rent NetFlix via iTunes (or direct on the AppleTV), as well as Amazon and every other rental company out there… but I think it’s more likely they’ll do it themselves.

    1080p is too big for the internet at the moment, and the current AppleTV only gets 720p… so I’d look for 720p versions first.

    Overall, I think Apple should probably enable standard divx files to work in iTunes & AppleTV… and then upsell people by automatically asking them to upgrade to 720p rentals and/or subscribe for future episodes.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Jan 15, 2008 Posts: 228
  • I think rentals seem to be a pretty safe bet.  Hopefully it’ll be a good price for decent terms (not $4 for 24 hours).  Netflix just unveiled unlimited streaming as a value-add for existing customers.  That’s $17 a month for DVD rentals AND unlimited streaming.  Of course, the quality isn’t that great and it doesn’t work on a Mac, but it’s still a pretty good start for online VOD.

    I have to imagine that there will be HD as an option for the sake of the Apple TV.  Probably for a higher price.  Plus an SD option for iTunes and non-HD households.

    Whatever it is, I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 15, 2008 Posts: 2220
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