Boy, oh boy, do i regret not spending enough time writing tech-posts predictinng future trends online. Robert X. Cringley just mentioned a bit more fleshed-out version of something I thought of sometime late 2004.
I'd feel a bit better about myself having that sort of idea written out, and verifiable somewhere. The line "Oh well, they might finally be catching on to the idea" isn't big or important, but would have made my day, for sure.
Anyways. The idea I got about film distribution is as follows:
I was aquainted with the iPod, probably of 20 or 40 Gb storage space, and had rented/bought lots of DVD's around that time. Considering the extreme amount of space available on such a tiny device, I still find it ridiculous that it's mainly marketed for distribution and rendering of music. About that time I also found one of the video stores with a DVD/VHS rental automat outside, complete with support for plastic payment and return slots for both VHS and DVD. Nice, only, it just seemed so completely useless, and 2-3 years late, since an DVD and especially the VHS are stupid technology for content distribution. They wear and break down after use. Since a full DVD take some 4.7Gb of data, even the smallest iPod would take several times its own weight and volume of DVD quality movies, it seemed like a no-brainer to introduce handheld mass storage devices for rental movie distribution. Somewhat exited, I couldn't wait for that to happen. But I still am.
Enter the iPod rent-O-rama:
The technical challenges might be a bit steeper than I care to think of, but the concept of the iPod as a video rental tool it quite simple. Whip up a serverbased video rent-O-mat with creditcard payment (maybe even coin or support, but that adds some unwanted security concerns) fiber-optical and power in from the back. The fiber-optics is the most obvious technology, but new content can be distributed by wireless technologies at as low speed as you want. Payment is really simple to do over GSM or other mobile networks. Transfer via iPod interface is the only new feature that needs some working out.
Being unfamiliar with the iPod interface, but assuming it runs at at least 400Mbps, a DVD could at worst take 95 seconds to transfer. DRM should be pretty simple, being in full control of the player hardware, it should not be too difficult to come up with a something that does what it's supposed to. Choice of rental duration and codec quality could be selectet at before payment. Both re-coding of DRM tokens, and watermark embedding should be able to tie the movie to a specific hardware item (the actual iPod), even optional advertisements connected to a rebate.
Secure storage of the content on the will be Apple's responsibility to decide over, but seeing the current standards are good enough for RIAA, Hollywood should be able and willing to go along with it.
The actual decoding of the movie could happen in the iPod, or, the easy route, packed into a souped-up version of the AV-dock (it already comes with Apple Remote, it lacks slightly more gearing towards Hi-Fi). The current iPod interface should be able to stream data quick enough for DVD-quality movies. For portability, a full-fledged DVD-decoder, or even worse HDTV capable circutry is a bit tough to pack into such a tiny device. To just treat the iPod as a dumbed down, portable storage is better for high-quality movies, since the main unit will be cheaper, and the regular user NEVER EVER consider watching hi-fi movies on the go. A sleek-ass dongle in spirit of Monster's FM transponder would be ideal as a connector to TV/projection units. It might not be the route Apple wants to go, but it sure would be effective.
I agree very much with the views of Mr Cringely that the ability to refill the iPod from geographical outlets are a great move to reach a new marked shares that don't currently have access to 10Gb+ DSL internet, or even own a computer (think big, the latter is still majoriy). There WILL be some years still, before 70% of iPod owners have internet access that can compete with physical links like USB or fiber-optical technology.
But i disagree on one thing the ideal partner for Apple isn't Blockbuster, for exactly the reasons he state.
The format of an ideal outlet would be a stylish automat with pilot-placements in large shopping centers, but eventually placed virtually _everywhere_ at the request of property owners in exchange of a fixed sum of money. An ideal partner should have previous experience in vending machine operations, and a rock solid brand name.
That ideal partner would be: Coca-Cola.
(I know about the Pepsi + iTunes, but I swear, I _have_ seen a co-branded 'Nano-Cola',more on that later)