Comment Yesterday evening, as America finished its working day, and Europe settled in for the evening, I started to download my first iTunes movie.
I'm in Gresham, Norfolk and I have a BT/Virgin broad band connection, which actually works very well. My wife Maggie selected the iTunes movie (Flight Plan) and I bought it from the iTunes store for just under $10. I used my .Mac account credentials to pay, which is registered in Texas, my sometime USA home. That was between six and seven o'clock.
By 11pm it was still downloading and too late to watch - what happened to Steve Jobs' promised 30 minutes download time, I wondered. Being an avid Apple fan, and an investor, I'd actually watched his QucikTime 12 September Keynote presentation in the afternoon - with no network driven delays, by the way - so I clearly remember his 30 minutes download time quote.
Before bed, and after nearly five hours of downloading, iTunes predicted another five hours before the movie download would complete. I went to bed and this morning discovered the download had continued and then crashed as I slept. Restarted, its been going for over an hour as I write this - the download (which is just over a gigabyte) has another two hours to go according to iTunes. Nice one Steve! Let's hope Apple's not too reliant on movie downloads for its 2007 financial success!
Of course it could be that the whole world had been downloading Flight Plan, and the iTunes site was stuffed by its own success - but I doubt it. If video download is the name, transmission volume is the game. Yesterday afternoon I downloaded a game for my video iPod (no download delay) but found that I had - for some unknown reason - to re-authorize my computer on iTunes before it would down-load to my iPod. What's going on? Has Apple stumbled? Are my expectations too high? God knows how many IT systems and services I've introduces that had teething problems - should I have know better?
Are these just start-up problems from the king of execution? Or, like the Apple promised iTV unit, is this service, with its only 75 movies available for download, just not ready yet for prime time? Is video movies just a nut too hard for Apple to crack? Could this be the Newton all over again?
The downloadable media stakes are high - video media is an area where if others succeed, Apple's media crown would be at serious risk. Microsoft are snapping at Apple's heels - its own media player rapidly evolving; its new video ready iPod competitor reportedly in manufacture. Cable and Satellite companies are all in or getting in the game - with News Corp just having to halt their movie download service for security reasons. And Tivo is poised to release its new video player, which is tied to movie and video download services.
A possible underlying theme is that these most recent Apple product announcements were market forced, and ahead of the necessary the technology - early instead of arriving, as in the past, fortuitously at the same time. With the iTV device, announced for future shipment - a first for Apple - needs 801.11n wireless, which is just not yet ready for standards prime time. But without announcing the iTV TV companion device, Apple's movie products and services initiative makes no real sense, especially in the light of the competition. Jobs said so himself - the computer is in the den, while the family are in the living room watching the telly.
With music media downloads, Apple build on pirating experience - Napster proved that mass music downloads were ready for primetime. Bit Torrent, now in the pirate video download space, is hardly ready for the consumer market - a masters degree in computer science coupled with the commitment of a suicide bomber seem like minimum requirements for its use to me. Apple's leading wireless networking (Airport products) worked out, but like the early laser printer successes in the 1980s, was not capitalized on. Cisco and Intel made the commercial killing. And the technology in the iPod had been well proven prior to its introduction by Palm and others. It was the killer music application (itself established by Napster) that was successful.
And what about the newly announced Nano players? Personally I can resist having a player with a screen slightly larger than an air mail postage stamp displaying my album art. And I really don't need the 24 hours of continuous music the new player promises - unless, that is, I'm killing time waiting for my iTunes store movie to download. I'd already bought into the iPod Mini, so have been through the multi-color aluminum case stage already. And as a consistent Apple impulse buyer, I own a fifth generation iPod to watch my videos on - its just a pity that I can't get to first base (downloading them onto my computer) in the movie process!
Maybe Apple won't pull a Newton; but might pull a Sony. Sony is today's most obvious example of a company that got forced ahead of technology because of competitor pressure. Now Sony lives with batteries burning, new game stations getting later and the promised new walkman, endlessly delayed. All down to too early technology adoption and a panicked reaction to loss of market share. Will Apple fall into the same trap - I hope not. ®
Cormac O'Reilly now acts as a senior advisor for Gustin Partners, a Boston based boutique management development firm, while not spending his ill-gotten gains living in Texas and the UK.