In days gone by, Apple wore a cloak of confidentiality that kept forthcoming new products secret until they were formally announced. Today, that garment is in tatters. Or is it? Perhaps, instead, the company has simply learned from political spin-doctors the usefulness of timely leaks. And some early good news certainly would have been helpful to dispel the shadow cast by Apple's recent massive laptop-battery recall.
Long before CEO Steve Jobs stepped onto the stage on Tuesday (September 12) at a "special event" (click to watch - QuickTime required) in San Francisco timed to co-incide with the Apple Expo in Paris, the news he was set to announce about the company offering movie downloads from the US iTunes store (and only the US iTunes store for now) had been three around the internet and was tucked up having a little rest somewhere. So forgive us, please, for not rushing to write a news story immediately after the event (or, indeed, at all).
And, the Apple rumour sites and even blue-chip sites, such as Reuters, were spot on when they said that the first movies available would be from the Disney stable - just as Disney's ABC TV channel had been the first to make programmes available for iTunes download last October (a lead Jobs said over 40 others have since followed).
But given the ABC deal and the fact that Jobs has long had a strong relationship with Disney, sold his animated-movie company Pixar to Disney in January and sits on the Disney main board, Disney's involvement wasn't so much news as an absolute given.
Job's also offered a "sneak preview" of a network media player. This, too, had also been widely forecast. Few if any, though, had predicted that this external box - looking like a squashed Mac mini and compatible with Windows as well as Mac OS - would not be arriving until some unknown time in Q1 2007.
Why the revelation and why the long wait? Jobs didn't say. Nor did he explain what type of wireless networking the product (codenamed iTV) would be using other than saying it was 802.11.
Our guess is that Apple is waiting for much-delayed ratification of the 802.11n standard because the best currently ratified standard, 802.11g, simply isn't reliable enough to get video from a Windows or Mac PC to a TV set. Possibly not even if that video is at a lowly 640x480 resolution encoded in H.264 as will be the movies iTunes USA makes available for download and also, from now on, the downloadable TV programmes that had only been at 320x240.
Of course, there is also the possibility that Apple wants the box to be able to support high-definition footage and so is delaying not just to get suitable wireless networking but also for a time when it is able to offer high-def movies and TV programmes for download - and likely at a premium.
Jobs talked about the iTV's ability to show on large flatpanel TV sets via its HDMI or component connections the movies and TV programmes bought from the iTunes Store and stored on home computers. But he didn't discuss the logic of watching 640x480 video on the sort of TV sets that people in the USA are buying - many of them high-def models able to handle resolutions up to 1920x1080.
He did say, though, how wonderful this [standard-def] footage looked on flatpanel TV sets and tried to prove it by showing on the giant screen behind him examples of the footage - without pointing out that the video being shown was being put up there by a system costing a sizable fortune and able to make virtually ANYTHING look good.
But none of this stopped the Apple faithful in the audience oohing and aahing and yipping, yelping and whistling - and finally clapping Jobs fervently off the stage.
Maybe they didn't know anything about high-def TV or appreciate that Jobs' demonstration was completely invalid. And it's possible that they didn't realise that other firms have been offering movies for download well before Apple. Perhaps they also had no idea that network media players have been available for Mac OS, as well as Windows and Linux, for a number of years.
Or could it just be that they did know all this and simply didn't care? The fact that it was Apple that was going to be providing the new service and hardware might have been enough for them to be able to reaffirm their wavering faith - and that was exactly what they wanted.
Oh, and before ending, we should point out that we do believe that the arrival of downloadable movies on the iTunes USA Store is quite a big deal. If, that is, other studios are convinced to offer their movies, too, in the same way that TV stations fell in behind ABC.
But even if they do, it is only a beginning. As download bandwidths continue to increase, Apple and firms that were already offering movie downloads (and will now enter the market) will need to accomodate the needs and expectations of the ever-growing number of owners of high-definition TV sets and that's something they can't possibly do with 640x480 resolution video and over today's wireless network technology.
Some might say we are just being miserable and cynical in not seeing the benefits of the Apple way. But what do you think? Tell us in this thread in the HEXUS.lifestyle.news forum.
HEXUS.linksHEXUS.community :: discussion thread about this article
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External.linksApple USA - home page
Apple USA - Special Event video (requires QuickTime)