Apple MacBook won’t let you watch iTunes movies on some displays

November 19, 2008

This one is slowly bubbling to a frenzy. The new aluminum MacBook has turned up the heat on how aggressively it will protect iTunes video content from being output to an external display. In plain English, if you hook your new MacBook up to a display that is not DPDC-compliant, you will get an error message and you will not be able to play the movies you bought on iTunes. For technical details read this excellent summary from Ars Technica, always a reliable source. 

There are many angry posts going around online, including on Apple’s user forums where people are, appropriately, miffed that they can’t watch content they’ve paid for on legitimate devices (notably, projectors and older TVs, anything that requires a conversion from a digital to an analog or non DPDC-compliant digital signal).  My favorite comment on the user forum was from Al Knowles, who said:

Same problem here as well. I guess they want to be sure we HAVE to buy an
Apple TV.
Not gonna happen.
I’ll buy DVD’s at my local retailer before that happens.

Talk about drastic measures! As easy as it would be to flay Apple for this one. I have to point the finger at the people behind this: the movie studios. They are certainly the ones forcing Apple to do this, since Apple has created a very open platform for video that requires downloading entire files in order to view them. Files which the industry fears are then subject to offline manipulation and sharing. This is in contrast to Netflix streaming, which never lets a complete copy of a movie make it onto any device. 

The industry fear is obvious: you’ll rent an HD movie on iTunes, connect it to your DVD recorder instead of your TV and output a permanent copy for your library archive. Or worse, you’ll then make copies for all your friends. So they figured they can just rely on technology to prevent you from connecting to an unapproved device. The rub comes when you find out how many “unapproved” devices are still legitimate — at least from a consumer’s perspective. And in the end, it’s the consumer’s perspective that will determine whether people turn to alternate means to scratch the video itch. And yes, under alternate means I am including piracy.

What about you: bad call for Apple? Is this just the big, bad movie studios? Do you think Apple will have to relent in response to user outcry?


Netflix finally includes Macs in its streaming plans

October 27, 2008

The word at MacWorld is that the Netflix “instant watching” feature is being upgraded to support Firefox as well as Intel-based Macs. This is something the Netflix blog brought up early on as a goal. The Intel-based part means it’s not exactly Mac-friendly, but Netflix says that three-fourths of their Mac users are based on Intel machines so they’re satisfying the biggest number.

Many Mac people will be angry about this, to be sure. Netflix doesn’t seem to be apologizing, though, and is instead likely to position this as yet another in a log line of devices Netflix intends to support: LG Blu-ray players, Samsung Blu-ray players, the Roku/Netflix box, the Xbox 360, and now, the Mac.

Angry Mac fans aside, this is further evidence that the Netflix people know what they’re doing.

Device by device, Netflix is making its modest little service relatively ubiquitous. Unlike iTunes or MovieLink or anyone else, Netflix is shooting to become the base option in video devices intended for the living room. Very smart move.


Samsung adds Netflix to latest Blu-ray players

October 23, 2008

We’re witnessing the one dramatic change in the world of physical media. Now Samsung has joined LG in making Blu-ray players that also stream Netflix movies and TV shows. This Netflix strategy is the little engine that could:

  • People first said it was weak because the content was so second-string. Netflix has recently fixed that by adding Starz and some Disney movies. 
  • Some complained that a dedicated $99 box from Roku (though priced to sell), wasn’t enough to move the market. However the LG Netflix/Blu-ray player showed that there was real depth to the strategy.
  • The deal with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 to put Netflix content in the game console proved there’s a true multi-platform play there.
  • Now Samsung’s entry shows that this is going to become a big deal across multiple players in the CE and computing world.

Lessee, Netflix 4, everybody else, 1.

With Steve Jobs again this week referring to the Apple TV as a “hobby” in order to downplay previous expectations, this leaves Netflix clearly in the driver’s seat when it comes to over-the-top delivery to the TV. Maybe not in volume yet, but it will.

The biggest issue here is what this means for cable. Netflix has set its sights not on Blockbuster or even on iTunes, but on Comcast, Cox, and Time Warner. The Netflix solution pulls content automatically from your DVD rental queue, provides an easier-to-use interface than VOD, and now has as much good content as a typical VOD system, this makes cable cord-cutting that much more possible.

This Netflix move could prove to be the most important wildcard of 2008. Now if only there wasn’t a recession hanging over these Blu-ray players

Are you Netflixing your TV? Will you? Do tell.


Flip digital video cameras get personal

October 14, 2008

You’ve seen Dell and Sony’s sexier laptops, you may have even seen Fujitsu’s recent announcement that its Lifebook A1110 series comes with a detachable lid that can swapped for all sorts of cool designs and colors. And, of course, you’ve watched as Apple jazzed up the colors on its iPods. It’s a trend we’ve heralded at Forrester as The Age of Style in consumer PCs and electronics (see my colleague JP Gownder’s excellent report on this topic). 

Today, Pure Digital, maker of the immensely popular Flip digital video cameras, announced that it’s about to put everyone else’s attempts at personalized style to shame with its completely customizable Flip Mino cameras. Check out the home page at theflip.com to see it for yourself. 

 

Choose one of three cool ways to get your own design. Or, I guess you can do black or white.

Choose one of three cool ways to personalize your camera. Or, I guess you can do black or white, but why?

I’m already big on these cameras. They’re unlocking a whole new kind of home video: gone are the 45-minutes of soccer game footage, in are 30-second slices of life captured and easily uploaded via the camera’s built-in USB jack. Evidently consumers agree with me, buying more than a million Flip cameras in just over a year. These cameras can be personalized in three equally cool ways: you can put a picture on it, choose from hundreds of pre-loaded designs, or use a strangely compelling pattern generator to craft a pattern suited to your tastes.

I tried all three options. The tools are super easy and I can’t imagine why anyone would buy a Flip Mino unpersonalized in the future. There are some hot designs pre-loaded, and the pattern designer, while mesmerizing, failed to compete with the option to use my own image. Appropriate to the season, I uploaded a photo to create a Flip Mino masterpiece I call, “Sunset on the Monster.” See the picture below to know what I’m talking about. If you can’t tell, shame on you, Yankee’s fan.

The personalized designs don’t cost extra. As Simon Fleming-Wood, VP of Marketing for Pure Digital (see interview with Simon about the economy) explained it to me, they think the value of the camera is that it lets you capture memories and express yourself. Charging extra to go one step further with self-expression just didn’t seem right. And it doesn’t. This is a rockin’ idea and I’m impressed they’re going to do it — only through their direct channel, of course, where I assume they have room to play with the margins a bit. 

Reminds me of the old days in the Internet Economy when we talked about Mass Customization. Never happened, did it? This gets as close as I’ve seen. 

"Sunset on the Monster" by James McQuivey

PS, let’s go, Red Sox.


Should Apple make a TV?

October 6, 2008

It’s a question I get asked a lot, especially by people in the press, who love all things Apple. 

The question came back up with a vengeance last week, as reporters heard of a new product from Apple called the “brick” that would be released soon. It turns out the brick may just be an innovative manufacturing process, not a product. But if I back up for a second, I want to give you a sense of the behind-the-scenes activity on something like this. Once the rumor starts, I get gentle emails from all camps in the press, ranging from bloggers to newspaper reporters, eager to sniff for anyone who has been pre-briefed on a major announcement.

Note: this just shows how little they know Apple. Apple doesn’t pre-brief. Further note for the future: if I am pre-briefed, I know how to keep a secret.

Invariably the question turns to speculation: What do you think the new product will be? What should it be? Because I’m a video guy, the conversation naturally turns to the question – should Apple make a TV?

It’s a question some people in the press apparently think Forrester has answered. I trace this to a Wall Street Journal article which tossed out casually that “Forrester throws cold water on the idea.” For the record, in our report about the future of Apple (authored by my colleague J.P. Gownder) back in May, we said these scantwords about the future of the  standalone set-top box called the Apple TV:

Apple TVs could also be integrated into an Apple HDTV product, which would leverage Apple’s competence at designing appealing, crisp, high-end LCD displays for the Macintosh. (see the May 22, 2008 report, The Future of Apple Inc.)

I think this is a very logical step — putting iTunes in the TV — for Apple to take, especially now that NBC is back in the iTunes fold. But I also think it’s a step that would not be fully exploited if Apple doesn’t adopt an ad-supported streaming model for video. Which is what I recommended every company making an over-the-top TV play do in my recent report. 

Of course, what I think doesn’t matter. What do you think? Should apple make a TV? If not, why? If so, when?