Sometimes, it’s hard just being a Blu Ray disc. Just when you thought everyone was happy with you, you get a new challenge from an unexpected corner. You wonder why they supported you at all, if they call you a ‘bag of hurt’.
Case in point being old friend Apple. Having fought alongside such stalwarts as Dell, HP, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Walt Disney Pictures, and 20th Century Fox for the Blu Ray format to prevail, Apple suddenly feels, somehow, that the future isn’t supposed to be “Blu” after all, it’s supposed to be “i”, as in “iTunes”. As if it wasn’t already hard enough trying to get a good chunk of the Windows PC users to switch over from their DVD drives, Apple has completely outlawed Blu Ray. Macs don’t ship with Blu Ray drives, but if you do manage to ‘add-on’ your shiny new Blu Ray drive onto your trusted Mac, chances are you won’t find it very trustworthy. Apple’s latest Snow Leopard OS does not support hardware acceleration for software ‘not made by Apple’, and surprisingly-not-so-good old iTunes 9 won’t even playback from the Blu Ray disc.
But this isn’t new for Apple. The iPhone, the toast of a generation, doesn’t support something as ubiquitous and obvious as Flash, while it must have taken a giant leap of faith for Apple to add FM Radios to their iPods, 8 years after its launch, and years after it has become a common feature on every other cell phone.
With what they’re doing with Blu Ray, they need you to ditch optical discs completely, and head off to your friendly neighbourhood iTunes store – the online one, that is. “Oh, you don’t have broadband? So you mean, you’ll have a nauseating experience with the whole ‘Video on Demand’ thing? What’s that, you ask? Uh, we thought everyone knew… It’s the next big thing. Blu Ray, you say? Oh, no, no.. That’s old – putting discs in drives is primitive; you should just have to download.”
That’s probably what’s going on in the Apple think tanks. But, Apple think tanks are tech-heavy, unlike the man on the street, or in his study with his computer and DVD Drive. They think iTunes’ ‘Download what you want’ philosophy is the successor of the DVD Drive.
The man with the computer isn’t looking for a different way to get his movies; he just wants better quality, higher definition, an overall better movie-watching experience. And most importantly, without a huge miracle to change it, his mind is set on ‘owning’ a copy of the movie, when he pays for it. Optical media may be dead to the Apple folks, but you can hold, store and gift a disc. A disc is for a lifetime, if not the owner’s, at least the disc’s own lifetime. Since a movie has always been a tangible object that has transitioned to better quality (The VHS tape, to the CDROM, to the DVD), the Blu Ray is heir apparent.
Once Blu Ray players become the staple in households, it’ll take nearly a decade to convince them that optical discs are passé, if at all possible. Broadband speeds are good, but even when they’ll become common, a 50 GB Blu Ray movie is a strain to stream. What if Apple had fought the DVD? Can Apple afford to stay out of a decade’s worth of action? Or is Apple going to pretend that iTunes alone is the future of content delivery?
Some of the most successful companies, historically, have been those that create what customers want, not which consistently make customers want what they create. If Apple chooses the latter, it’ll be a long hard day’s night before iTunes replaces video players and optical discs. If it chooses the first option, it’ll be the same kind of business sense that prevailed when Macs switched over to Intel, and allowed users to install Windows XP and Vista alongside the Mac OS X, and finally resurrected Apple. Rumors already abound of an impending announcement that Blu Ray’s coming to iTunes. For the sake of Apple and all ye old faithful, let’s hope it’s true.