Apple video: it’s not about the iPod

As expected, Apple revamped the iPod range yesterday; however, the expected video iPod didn’t appear. Instead, Apple provided a sneak peek of a product due in early 2007 dubbed “iTV” – which, to me at least, is more important than a video iPod.

Portable music makes sense because it’s the soundtrack to whatever you’re doing, whether that’s jogging, sitting on a bus or mowing the lawn. Portable video, though, is a much trickier proposition. It needs your full attention or it’s pointless, and unless you’re doing serious travelling then there aren’t many times when you’ll sit and watch a film on a portable device. For most people, movies are things you watch from your sofa.

iTV (terrible name, which Jobs promises to change) is designed for sofa watching, and it acts as a bridge between iTunes and your TV. The idea makes sense to me – I’ve got a Mac Mini under the telly, which I use as a jukebox and a player for bittorrent videos of programmes I’ve forgotten to watch. But it makes sense for Apple’s movie ambitions too.

Video on iPods is a fairly minor business, but video on your TV is a much bigger opportunity. I suspect that’s why Apple announced the iTV early: the initial iTunes video line-up is Disney, Disney, Disney, and iPod-only video is a market the other film studios can afford to ignore. But if Apple can do serious business in living rooms then that changes the game considerably. If iTV is a success, it could enable Apple to pull off the iTunes trick a second time, with a video service so popular that the studios need to be part of it.

Will that happen? I’ve no idea. I’m not convinced by the pricing of Apple’s movie downloads and suspect the UK prices will be horrific, especially compared to the cost of a DVD in Tesco. Then again, I don’t buy music from iTunes because I don’t like the format, the price or the DRM, and that clearly makes me unusual among Mac owners. What I do know is that Apple’s taking a big gamble here, and it’s moves like this one that make it such an interesting company to watch.

As for the rest of the keynote: iTunes 7 is nifty, the incomprehensibly popular Shuffle is even smaller, the new Nanos are great and the combination of increased storage and reduced prices make the current iPods better value for money than ever.