Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Email to Steve Jobs: iTunes 7 needs DVD ripping + burning, downloaded media auto-upgrading

I am not going to comment step by step through Apples Its Showtime special event yesterday, Daniel Eran at RoughlyDrafted Magazine has a good summary up here and this time Paul Thurrott puts together a some pretty good comments, though with the usual backhanded compliments. I actually think Paul goes a little soft on Apple, as you can see by the folllowing email I sent to Steve Jobs
Hi Steve,

I would be highly impressed if this made it to you Mr. Jobs, but I hope it does.

I wish I had the research in front of me to justify what I am about to say as "facts", but I dare not, my sample size is 1, my family.

Last year when you announced the 5G iPod with video that played TV Shows, I was cautiously optimistic. The new form factor was a great improvement for music and photos over the 4G iPod photo that I am still using today. The unknown quantity was TV Shows. You launched with 320x240 resolution video files, which fits the 5G iPod screen perfectly and kept the download to a reasonable size, perfectly understandable, but it wasn't a long term solution for the HD era. No doubt the videos were encoded with the best protocol possible, H.264, so they looked beautiful at their native resolution, but watching a 320x240 video on a 1024x768 display (my 12" PowerBook) or 1440x990 (first generation iMac) was passable but not pleasing. I was also worried that any videos purchased at 320x240 would not be automatically upgraded when the inevitable resolution bump happened. I was also heavily disappointed that iTunes could not do DVD ripping + burning of purchased TV Shows. For comparisons sake, their is no way that iPods that only play music are such a smashing success if people can't rip their existing extensive CD libraries into iTunes or could create audio CDs to bridge the gap where iPods are tough to connect, e.g. legacy cars.

I haven't watched the September 12th Special Event "It's Showtime" event yet, the server was overloaded when the stream became available, but I have read all the coverage and have iTunes 7 installed on 2 of my 3 Macs. iTunes 7 is a great piece of work, it's addressed many a long standing issue with iTunes. The top has to be reverse synching. I can't tell you how many times I have wanted to buy something off iTunes and didn't have my full library on the computer I was at, be it work or if I was either one of my laptops, but stayed my hand because my library was on the iMac. Money was left on the table more than once.

At the special event you announced TV Shows had been upgraded to 640x480 bringing them on par with the new Movies, finally hitting native resolution of SDTV. Thank goodness, but the truly sad part if nothing changes, is that if I bought a 320x240 TV Show from iTunes up till Sept. 11, I am stuck with it. True, if I bought a VHS tape I couldn't "upgrade" to DVD without paying for it, but this isn't physical media. I could have at least eBayed my old VHS tapes like I did when DVD came out, not true of DRMed media files. If you stick with this policy, you are leaving a lot of money on the table in more ways than one since I don't believe I am alone on these issues. First, I will not buy another video from iTunes until they reach full HD resolution, 1080p. You might think this is extreme, but I am not going to be left with a bunch of 320x240 and 640x480 videos if you upgrade next year to 1280x720 (hey that is 720p in HDTV parlance, getting pretty close) and then 1080p. Secondly, you aren't going to get an iPod purchase from me until the 6G iPod with a 16:9 ratio screen comes to market. See, if you announced today that everyone that bought 320x240 videos received upgrades to 640x480, the precedent would have been set that iTunes consumers weren't going to be milked for cash every-time the source content was re-encoded. I would have bought the 5.5G iPod and bought the 6G iPod Widescreen iPod too when it came out so I could enjoy all the benefits of downloadable TV Shows and Movies now. The key is knowing that I haven't made a mistake with video purchases. I have wanted the iTV for literally years now for music and photos, downloadable TV Shows made this more acute, and downloadable Movies make having a device like this a no brainer, I find it hard to believe you are going to miss the Christmas 2006 season. But if I buy videos today in 640x480, the iTV upscaling for my HDTV is only going to look so good, I will need higher resolution videos, so again I might skip the iTV until you have full resolution videos or announce an upgrade policy. If I haven't beat the drum enough, not having an upgrade policy in place leaves an opening for HD-DVD and BluRay to gain a foothold. If I knew that if I bought today and could get full resolution videos later, me and I suspect many others would skip the next physical media for video battle entirely.

And that brings me to my last point. I noticed the iTV has no DVD drive. I also have a lot of movies on DVD sitting on my bookshelf. I have a few TV show seasons on my bookshelf. There is no way on earth I am going to buy Pirates of the Caribbean from the iTunes Store when I already have the DVD. How am I going to watch the DVD on my iPod? How am I going to serve that movie to any TV that has an iTV? I can't, not with iTunes, and as I suggested above, iTunes absolutely needs to be able to rip DVDs, just like CDs. I know, there is some encryption, there may be a legal issue, but you know what, as a consumer, I don't care, and you already have a solution. You could create protected video files from my ripped DVDs, I am wiling to concede that for the convenience. Ripping DVDs is to slow? True it is slow on older computers like the ones I have, but you have Core Duo and Core 2 Duo Macs on the market right now, ripping a DVD is only going to get faster and faster, and besides, I don't care how slow the ripping process is since I only have to do it once. How about for TVs that already have a DVD player attached, anyway I can watch TV Shows or Movies downloaded from iTunes? That would be a no since iTunes can't burn a video DVD. How come I can create audio CDs from the music I buy on iTunes but I can't create DVDs of TV Shows or Movies? There is consumer confusion there, the more video diverges from music in capabilities, the more restrictive it is compared to music, the less iPods and iTVs you are going to sell. I know, you are already battling the studios on the terms you have set for Movie downloads and DVD ripping and burning is a concession, but you have only sold 45m videos compared to 1.5b songs, I think these points are some of the reasons why.

I would love to hear from you.

A long term customer,