Tag Archives: Keynote

Can iTunes Rentals Bring iPlayer Downloads to the Mac?

One of the biggest criticisms of the BBC iPlayer has been that the download service is Windows only – and limited to specific versions at that – ruling out licence payers using other platforms such as the Mac. Indeed I’ve blogged previously about the pressure that the BBC is under by the BBC Trust to get such a cross-platform solution.

The basic problem has always been that there wasn’t a solution that met the requirements – the ability to have programmes downloadable, but then only able to be watched for a week after the original showing, but was cross-platform. Windows Media DRM provided the functionality, but not the cross-platform support.

That all changed this week, with the Macworld Keynote. As part of that, Apple announced iTunes Movie Rentals. Although the lengths of time are different, the fundamental principle that the BBC required, that the programmes only be able to be watched for a limited period are there. When I was watching the keynote, the thought did cross my mind as to whether we’d find the BBC amongst the big film studios come the UK launch.

It hasn’t taken long for the BBC to start making positive noises, with Ashley Highfield, the director of Future Media and Technology stating on a BBC blog:

The announcement from Macworld about the effective relaunch of the AppleTV (Jobs: “we tried with AppleTV, but its not what people wanted. So we’re back with AppleTV take two – no computer is required”) is encouraging.

This, coupled with Apple’s (long anticipated) move to a rental model, means that we can look to getting BBC iPlayer onto this platform too, as we should be able to use the rental functionality to allow our programmes to be downloaded, free, but retained for a time window, and then erased, as our rightsholders currently insist.

Whilst it won’t reach Linux users, using iTunes would reach more users than the current solution – more than that, the programmes would be transferable from a computer, to an iPod, and could even be watched back on a TV using the Apple TV – giving an option for people without a suitable computer at all.

I also can’t imagine that Steve Jobs isn’t going to jump at this – just think of the media coverage if the BBC boots out a Microsoft based solution in favour of iTunes

Wow – Apple Joins the Smartphone Arena

So after all the rumours, and all the predictions of an Apple mobile phone, a widescreen iPod, and a small form factor Mac tablet, today in his keynote, Steve Jobs announced all three – but in one device, the iPhone.

iphoneannounce.jpg

Essentially this is Apple does the smartphone as it thinks it should be done, diving straight into the market that is currently being dominated by the various Symbian models, primarily from Nokia and Sony Ericsson, and with competition from the multitude of Windows Mobile devices. Certainly it is a very competitive market for Apple to enter, so the iPhone needs to be something pretty special and stand out different to compete.

Certainly on paper the iPhone seems to be exactly that. In terms of looks it is more PDA like than phone like – being just slightly smaller than my existing Dell Axim PDA. Resolution wise the screen is only half VGA at 320 x 480 – an interesting choice as high end PDA’s such as my existing Axim have been shipping with VGA screens for a while. Like a PDA it doesn’t have an extensive number of keys – indeed like the classic Mac mouse designs, it has precisely one – on the front. This is apparently the home key, that takes the user back to the main menu.

There are a couple of other buttons on the side, but essentially the whole thing is driven by a touch-screen interface. However again, it’s a bit different from the normal. Whereas most other PDA devices come with some sort of stylus for pointing, this is an interface designed to be used with fingers.

Now whilst this is probably easier to use in some ways, the real test will be how resilient the screen is to sticky, mucky fingers – certainly a big question mark over the design.

The software is definitely more PDA like, with web browsing provided by a version of Safari, the desktop browser that ships with MacOS X. More than that, the whole device will be running a version of MacOS X too, I’d expect one without the overheads of Aqua and the rest of the full scale MacOS X on the top – but the keynote certainly highlighted that a lot of the OS is still there. So whilst you won’t be loading desktop Mac applications onto it, it has the benefits of multithreading, pre-emptive multitasking and memory protection. Alongside the phone and internet functions, the software also includes a full raft of iPod features too, including the ability to play videos in widescreen mode, and also it appears, a version of the Cover Flow interface that turned up in the most recent revision of iTunes. On top of that it also has a hookup with Google Maps, plus a photo management application.

The widescreen mode, or more specifically how the phone changes is one of the really stand out features though. Whilst my Axim, like a number of other PDA’s can operate in both portrait or landscape modes, it usually requires manually clicking a couple of options to rotate the screen. Apparently the iPhone will do it entirely automatically. If you’re holding the device in a landscape position, that is how it will display – if it is in portrait then it will display in portrait mode.

Communications wise, a surprising omission is 3G support – it is only using EDGE, an enhanced version of GPRS. However it is quad-band GSM, so should be able to roam pretty well everywhere. It also has wi-fi and Bluetooth to add to the communications choices. It can also, not surprisingly dock and sync with a desktop.

A camera is included, but it doesn’t seem that it is regarded as a major feature, and it is only 2 megapixel, putting it on a par with other smartphones, but certainly not one to get if one of your requirements is to take good pictures.

So in summary, it certainly looks like an exciting entry into the smartphone market, with a good looking interface and a number of innovative features. Although the lack of a stylus is being pushed as a plus point, I’d certainly wonder quite how resilient to finger marks it’s actually going to be. In terms of being used as a PDA, the big advantage from a Mac users point of view is that it will use the same calendar and contact database designs as the desktop iCal and Address Book so hopefully synchronisation will be much less of a pain as with other smartphones. Having said that, currently it has only been announced for the US market – quite how long we will have to wait for a UK version remains to be seen. Many of the answers probably won’t become clear before the official release in June – and thus far it seems that only David Pogue has really had that much of a play with it.

Looking at the other major announcement, the Apple TV (or iTV as it was know before) was shown – and is pretty much as expected, although there is some surprise that it can’t produce the top HDTV resolutions. Essentially it is a simple wrapper around Front Row moving it off the desktop and into the living room.

Notable by their absence however was any mention of software, for example more details of Leopard, or an overview of the ’07 revisions of iLife and iWork – more to come maybe?

Update: Time Magazine have a very good iPhone article which alongside some descriptions of functionality also has some interesting background tit-bits. For example, Apple has been working on the touch screen for a number of years in response to the Tablet PC hype, but the research ultimately went into the iPhone interface rather than a tablet Mac.

The deal with Cingular is significant, as Apple effectively forced the network to adapt to fit what they wanted to do with the phone – usually it works the other way around with the network calling the shots. A good example of this is the iPhone voicemail functionality that works through a screen based list of messages, not the audio menu that is used on existing phones.

Certainly I’m expecting a long wait for it to appear in other markets, as Apple will have to do precisely the same with every other network – force them to conform to how the iPhone works – certainly it seems that this will extend to the availability of additional software for the device too. Whilst Cingular were willing to bend to what Apple wanted, wider availability around the world will be entirely down to whether other networks will do the same, and that I suspect will come down to how well the device sells in the US. If they can see that the investment in modifying their networks to cope with the iPhone is worthwhile, then they’ll go for it – but I suspect we’ll be paying a goodly amount for the pleasure too to cover their costs.