n3wblog tech commentary and observations from the future

Your Content

listening to Hitting the Surface by Monolake from the album Ghosts.

It’s the future. You have a device in your pocket that is exponentially more powerful and has hundreds, maybe thousands of times more storage than the largest computers of 30 years ago. Maybe you have a bag with a tablet computer in it which is roughly comparable in terms of storage and processing power to the phone in your pocket. Only bigger. They are massively-capable devices by any measurement we care to throw at them.

You’re listening to music from your phone on your headphones.

This is where our story gets a little strange. Where did that music come from? More and more, people are streaming music from an online service without actually storing anything on their local device. Services like rdio, 8tracks, spotify seem to be growing in popularity. Most people think the notion of buying music on a CD is quaint or even absurd. If you happen to be someplace and want to watch a video on your tablet, chances are you’ve downloaded it or streamed it from somewhere. Almost nobody would consider buying a movie on a DVD and transferring it to their iPad.

iPad Workplace 2.0
iPad Workplace 2.0 by mbiebusch

Yes, iPad. If you have a tablet, there is a high probability it’s one of those things that Apple sells. Android on tablets has not taken off with the exception of the Kindle Fire. And Apple just released a new one this week.

While they’re marvelous devices, getting content onto them is something of a challenge. They only support a very narrow band of video formats for playback. If you’ve downloaded a video from somewhere, unless you carefully checked the format beforehand, it probably won’t play directly on your iPad. If you’re a determined sort of individual, you might have Handbrake or Miro Converter on your computer and can transcode that video before transferring it to your iPad.

The key ingredient here is “computer”. There are no tools native to the iPad that let you do this sort of conversion. Worse, there are very few players capable of playing back these alien formats on the iPad. The short-lived VLC promised to do for the iPad what it does for general purpose computers but it was not meant to be. Now it’s dead. There is an Xvid/DivX player but it is predictably awful.

This is no accident. Apple really wants you to get all your content from the iTunes Store. They’ve made it difficult to write software to do this sort of thing on the iPad and even more difficult to actually get it into the app store where people can download it. They’ve limited the codecs they support. And they don’t provide tools to convert video to it on your computer. Services like Netflix exist and will happily stream video to you if you’re a member, but you’re borrowing that media. When it’s off their servers, you don’t get to watch it again.

How many years until this same thing has happened to computers? Not soon enough for the media companies.


3 Comments

So very true. That’s why I rarely bother to move content other than music onto my devices, otherwise it’s such a pain.

Posted by RPM on 10 March 2012 @ 1pm

As a recent Apple convert, I keep worrying about this as well. The only thing that gives me some reassurance is that Apple’s entire app ecosystem relies on the power of the Mac for development. It’d be very risky for them to nerf it to iOS levels.

Also Air Video works pretty good for streaming/transcoding video.

Posted by Brad on 10 March 2012 @ 3pm

[...] than just the obsolescence of the dedicated player. Music storage itself has become another quaint notion. Services like Rdio and Pandora (still not available in Canada) have replaced saved music for many [...]

Posted by iPods on 16 February 2013 @ 10am

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