The Video iPod: Watchman 2005?

by Chris Seibold Jul 25, 2005

There is an quote attributed to George Santayana that proceeds as follows: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This verbal nugget may seem to encapsulate a lot of wisdom in a mere eleven words but the notion ultimately fails. Santayana’s quote is erroneous because at this point in the still brief reign of Homo sapiens sapiens there is enough of recorded history to, using post hoc reasoning, find an example of why you should or shouldn’t do something with ten or so minutes of research. To wit: Coca-Cola was rightly derided for introducing New Coke but history is replete with businesses that were once thriving but later failed to adapt to changing markets. It is, therefore, not too much of a stretch to imagine a Coca Cola executive deciding to go with New Coke because the one time soft drink leader Hires Root Beer had failed to change as consumer tastes evolved. In short the Coca Cola Company did not want to repeat history. Which brings us to the long rumored, but rapidly gaining in credibility, supposedly forthcoming video iPod (referred to henceforth as the viPod). If we use history as our guide all the pieces seem to be place for a tepid reception when Apple introduces said device to the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers.

Taking the historical perspective we note that the iPod is often associated with the Walkman. The reasons for the association are obvious: both are personal music devices, both are/were wonders of miniaturization, and both were massive hits for their respective manufacturers. There, most folks might opine, the similarity would end. Yet the path followed by Apple and Sony after the iPod and Walkman introductions are remarkably similar. Sony followed up the Walkman with a tape-playing jacket complete with integrated speakers (the name of the product escapes me). The allure of such a piece of clothing remains mystifying. Whereas the Walkman was a personal experience the jacket suddenly broadcast your music to anyone unfortunate enough to be in your immediate vicinity, the freedom allowed by the Walkman’s diminutive size was negated by the onerous piece of clothing, and, finally, while the Walkman was the epitome of cool the jacket practically screamed “beat me up and take my lunch money.” (It is worth noting that the latter was a responsibility taken very seriously by Judas Priest fans.) Fortunately Apple chose not to follow that path… wait, wait… that isn’t quite true. Steve Jobs did, with a fair amount of the patented iCEO enthusiasm, introduce the Burton Amp Jacket at a MacWorld in 2003. While the jacket probably is a profitable venture few would maintain the erstwhile über hip article of clothing is anything more than just another iPod accessory.

Here the paths, for now, diverge. Sony, hoping to recapture the market magic of the Walkman, introduced the Watchman (for those who don’t remember, or are link adverse, the Sony Watchman was a very small black and white TV). The Watchman was seemingly a hit waiting to happen. After all if people were enthralled by the notion of listening to their music on the go the certainly the same individuals would be positively enraptured at the thought of carrying an entire television with them. Unfortunately for Sony that proved not to be the case. The Watchman was undoubtedly profitable but it never captured the imagination of the masses in the same numbers as the Walkman. Hence when Apple introduces the video Pod the Trifecta will be complete and the question will be: should Apple expect results equivalent to the results seen with the introduction of the Watchman?

The answer is likely no. While the Watchman suffered from a small screen (the screen produced a incredibly sharp picture but the images were so small that watching a football game was next to useless) the biggest factor holding the Watchman back from mass acceptance was the question of content. Whereas the Walkman allowed complete control over the content when you used a Watchman you were limited to over the air broadcasts, a galling situation in the age of cable. Couple the over the air limitation with the content provided by the broadcasters during the hours a Watchman was most likely to be used and you’ve got a device that appeals primarily to inveterate gamblers and those who cannot miss a moment of Lucas and Sami.

Hopefully the video iPod won’t suffer from the same limitations as the Watchman. Any such device from Apple will surely feature some sort of connectivity with larger screened devices so users wont be stuck looking at sweeping vistas via a playing-card sized screen. Even more important is the question of content. The content potential is nearly unlimited for a video iPod, everything from DVD’s to network programming sucked off (one way or another) your Tivo. And if the video iPod gains any market traction content won’t stop with just the video people are already enjoying. It is not hard to imagine a viPod spawning a new form of podcasting (which I hereby dub eyegougecasting) where people will record their likely awful shows specifically for the viPod. The democratizing of visual media will likely prove fairly popular and, perhaps, the newfound content coupled with a viPod can push Apple towards another personal media revolution. Historically speaking, it is anyone’s guess.


  • Ain’t gonna happen.

    I mean, Apple will likely finally do the vPod/iPod Video, but it’s not gonna be a smash like the iPod. Steve enumerated all the reasons before, but it basically comes down to: listening is a passive activity; watching is active.

    Still, Apple has to do this - if for nothing else, just to prevent Sony or Creative or whoever from stealing away the all-important “glow of cool.” Right now, Apple can do no wrong. That “glow” is selling them more product than the actual product specs/capabilities. They can’t relinquish the “glow.”

    As long as they don’t lose money on this, or lose some of their glow by releasing a complete dog of a product, everything will be fine. But the portable viewer will never be as big as the music player. We’ve had portable viewers for a long time now. You may know them as “The Notebook Computer,” or even “The PSP.”

    (And please, for the love of humanity - no videocasting. It’s bad enough LISTENING to someone drone on between hems and haws.)

    Billy K had this to say on Jul 26, 2005 Posts: 10
  • We’ve had portable viewers for a long time now. You may know them as “The Notebook Computer,” or even “The PSP.”

    The key to those products it that they do other things.  A PSP is primarily a game machine that happens to play movies.  I’m skeptical about the market for such a device, which is inherently smaller than the market for a portable music player. 

    Still, go ahead and make it and see what happens.  Doesn’t cost me anything!

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 26, 2005 Posts: 2220
  • will surely feature some sort of connectivity with larger screened devices

    I think the most important point of this entire article was glossed over too quickliy in a single sentence.

    Video out - instead of having to look at the video on the iPod sized screen, you could plug the iPod into the nearest home entertainment center to watch it full screen.

    Imagine also if the iPod could send the iTunes visualization output to your TV as well as the music to your stereo.

    The reason current iPods are such a great technology is that it makes your music “grab and go”.  Instead of picking about 10 CDs to throw in the car to take with me in a CD zip bag, I just grab my whole CD collection in the form of the iPod.

    Now take this concept to the movie market—I’m going to a friend’s house… Do I grab one or two DVDs in case we feel like watching a movie, or do I just grab the video iPod with 10 or 15 different movies on it?

    I think a lot of industry pundits are missing the point about portable video devices.  Movies on a small screen are not what consumers want… Portability is.

    I think Apple “gets it” and the video out functionality of the video iPod will be the most important feature in the marketing campaign.

    The reason portable DVD players or similar small video devices aren’t as popular is that you still have to carry all the media with you along with the player. There is no “grab and go” advantage.

    This is where the video iPod will differ from the notebook computer or the PSP… You have a very small player footprint with all the media stored internally.

    I’m surprised so many people out on the net are overlooking this most important difference in their opinion pieces.

    It’s all about “Grab n Go”, baby.  It’s the new “Plug n Play” catchphrase.

    You read it here first.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Jul 26, 2005 Posts: 243
  • If Apple want the “iPod video” (using their naming convention) to succeed then it MUST be backward compatible with existing color screen iPods. This means they have an immediate audience of millions.

    I agree with vb_baysider about video out. This is what will drive the short term success of iPod video.

    My predictions are:

    1) Apple will announce a firmware update for all color screen iPods that will enable them to play video on their screens or to a TV connected to the iPod. You could then run existing content such as home videos and movies you already own. Plus you could also run Keynote presentations from your iPod (exported as Quicktime)

    2) Either at the same time or not long after, they will announce that the iTMS will now provide a vast array of movie content. The biggest hurdle to this bandwidth issues unless they can use a model for delivery like BitTorrent.

    Will they ever release a large screen VidiPod? Probably one day, but I think the above two steps will happen first.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 26, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • Its all about the content, nothing else.

    The small screen - a red herring: look at the Gameboy… resolution and screen size is much more important in games than in TV. Its been selling like gangbusters since its inception.

    If TiVo can almost catch on (which gives you massive amounts of content) then a viPod w/ TiVo capability will be a homerun, and Apple will be a has-been if they don’t create the market themselves.

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 28, 2005 Posts: 219
  • #4 says that it’ll be a simple firmware update for color screen iPods to do video? I doubt so. Linux for iPods have gotten video to work in 4g iPods, but not with sound or color screen models yet… I think that it’s doubtful that Apple will put the time into making a new kind of iPod AND making video backwards compatible at the same time.

    shirmpdesign had this to say on Jul 29, 2005 Posts: 6
  • The content potential is nearly unlimited for a video iPod, everything from DVD’s to network programming sucked off (one way or another) your Tivo

    This is exactly where the problem lies: content. What do I watch on my shiny iPod video? My home movies? Uncle Hubert’s skiing trip? Because people keep forgetting that there is still no legal way to put a DVD collection onto the video pod (or any other device - heck, not even onto my internal HD).

    Considering the lenght that Apple went to satisfy the RIAA by implementing DRM into iTunes, I think that Apple will avoid anything that might look like actually encouraging users to do something illegal. And as long as the only content I can get is some Brittney music video from ITMS, I doubt that such a device will catch on beyond the microscopic über-geek market.

    Jens_T had this to say on Aug 01, 2005 Posts: 11
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