I got an e-mail yesterday from Philip "Swanni" Swann, president of TVPredictions.com, who I disagreed with in strong terms in a blog post more than 13 months ago. "Ha ha ha!" his e-mail said. "How does it feel to be eatin' them words now, biotch?"
Actually, no that's not what he said. He was very polite. He said: "After this week's Nielsen dismal report on the video iPod, are you planning an update on your Oct. 17, 2005 criticism of my prediction that the video iPod was doomed? :) The Nielsen numbers seem to suggest that the video iPod is, as I predicted, a flop."
Well, I read over the blog post in question, and Swanni's original, and I have to say that, alas, we were both wrong.
Nielsen Media Research reported this month that very few people are watching video on the video iPod. "Less than 1% of content items played by iPod users on either iTunes or the device itself were videos. Among video iPod users, that percentage barely improves, up to 2.2%."
I ain't gonna try to spin this -- consumers are a heck of a lot less interested in video on the iPod than I thought they'd be in Oct. 2005.
But Swanni was equally wrong when he declared that nobody was going to be interested in the video iPod--ever:
[T]he chances that iPod's video feature will succeed are thin.
"The video iPod will be Steve Jobs' folly," Swann said. "Americans will not watch full-length videos -- or perhaps even short music videos -- on 2.5-inch screens on portable devices. It makes no sense.
(Note: The above link goes to a mirror of the Oct., 2005 article -- it doesn't seem to be available anymore on Swann's site.)
While I admit to being wrong about the video iPod, I still stand by my criticisms of Swanni's post:
He argues that nobody has time to watch video on a 2.5" screen. Swanni is wrong because even in today's busy society, people have plenty of downtime, waiting at the store, at the Department of Motor Vehicles, in doctor's offices, on public transit, and especially on planes. Those people might well choose to spend that time watching video. Indeed, if you walk up and down the aisle of an airplane, you'll see they already are.
Swanni says the audio iPod succeeded because it's an extension of what people are already doing -- listening to music on portable devices. He says the video iPod asks people to do something they're not already doing: Watching video on portable devices. Swanni is wrong there on two counts: Listening to music on portable devices was, at one time, new -- and that wasn't too long ago, historically speaking; the first transistor radios came out 50 years ago.
Also, people are, in fact, already watching video on portable devices.
Things do, indeed, look pretty grim for the current generation of video iPod. But it's too early to write off all handheld video devices as doomed to fail.
Gizmodo has some interesting observations about watching video on various small-screen devices.. "I just spent over 50 hours in various airplanes watching all kinds of video on tiny screens, so let me tell you what I think.... " says Gizmodo.
Gizmodo's conclusions: The Motorola Q, which has a screen comparable to the size of the iPod video, is "hardly worth the trouble." The slightly larger Archos 404 is almost big enough for 4x3 video, but not so good for letterbox movies. On the other hand, the Sony PSP is terrific for movie watching, Gizmodo says.
"Summing up, I believe there is a big market for location-shifting using portable video players, because people are sometimes desperate for entertainment," Gizmodo says.
See, now, this is what I'm sayin'.