Why Movie Downloads are Confusing

I ran across this post over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog today and it really struck a chord. Even though most internet users are on Windows, presumably XP, a similar majority are iPod users. So, to many people who see the XP compatibility, there is a link in their mind that means they can use the content on their iPod. iTunes works on Windows afterall.

Being the local IT geek means I get asked questions about IT, alot. And many of these questions seem obvious to me but obviously not to the person asking the question. Lately, I’ve been asked by more than one person why certain videos won’t play on their iPod with VideoApple iPods. This inevitably turns out to be a format or codec issue. So far in the UK we’ve not seen too many succsessfull video download services, so the problem hasn’t reached cracking point yet. I’m already preparing the answers to the questions that will no doubt hit my inbox, phone and face. They have an iPod which works on Windows, they have iTunes which works on Windows yet, if they download a video with DRM they cannot play it on their iPod. This is simply too difficult for many less it literate people to comprehend. More to the point, these users are the mass consumers (they own iPods afterall), they are the ones that will make or break a service. And guess what, they’ve already shown that they like iPods so they will go with whoever can supply content for that device. This may not be a huge issue at the moment, but given the imminent arrival of the Video iPod and you’ve got a problem brewing.

One of the points in that article that had me chuckling to myself were the sales figures from Amazon. Over in the states Amazon offers a video download facility yet the most popular portable player compatible with their service is less popular than an iPod power adapter, let alone the iPod itself (which is a full 62 places up the charts at number 1). I guess the point boils down to whether people want to watch these videos on their portable devices or on their computers. Given the current quality of video being offered, the TV is out of the question and for me, I don’t particularly want to sit in front of my computer to watch a film. I’m far more likely to consume a small amount of content on my iPod. And I don’t think I’m alone.

There are many reasons to argue against a closed system such as iTunes and the iPod, but one of the arguments for it is certainly simplicity. For every person that asks the question, I usually just end up suggesting iTunes and videos that use open formats compatible with the iPod and no DRM. And, of course, I throw in a suggestion of switching to OSX where alot of things seem to “just work”.