Cool ≠ Useful

Ars Technica is reporting that a recent Nielsen survey reveals that only 2.2 percent of video iPod usage is video (yes that’s a decimal between the 2’s). Consider how loudly Apple and other device makers trumpet video playback capability – that’s a pretty sobering statistic.
So what’s going on here? We’ve had digital audio for years. Technology has finally made it feasible to affordably watch videos on a portable device. First audio, now video. Makes sense, no?
No.
Who said users want to watch videos on a 2 inch screen? You can do a lot of other things while listening to audio. Run. Read. Work out. Do your work. Study. Audio even has the ability to enhance such experiences. I can’t imagine running without music. Add video to the mix, and suddenly your options narrow – a lot. Demanding the undivided attention of your eyes requires commitment and concentration.
There’s one other problem: it’s still hard to deal with video. Pop a CD in your computer, and it shows up in iTunes. The story isn’t the same when it comes to DVD’s for the casual user. Nor is it really any easier to deal with TV. Regardless, I don’t think the need is really there.
Cool technology isn’t always useful or sought-after technology. It isn’t a far leap to see that people don’t have a lot of hours in the day to fully commit to video on a small screen. Audio is great because we can “share” our other experiences with audio.
It’s disheartening for technologists to face the hard reality of what the real world wants. Great design ingratiates itself into people’s lives without demanding too much. We first have to make sure people want it in the first place.

6 Comments Cool ≠ Useful

  1. Keith Peters

    I was so psyched to get my video iPod. But yeah, it’s still 99% just an mp3 player for me. I do have every episode of Lost on there though, and occasionally watch some. Maybe someday when they make video goggles that don’t make you look like a total nerd, and cost twice what the iPod costs…

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  2. Jay

    Apple has a bigger vision around video. This is just one page in their story. It’s about creating an ecosystem around video.
    The video iPod may not be usable for watching movies, but they’ve set a precedent that videos can be portable. Now I can stick my iPod in my mini-van and have kids watch movies in the back seat. Or I can take my iPod to a friends house and watch movies by plugging into a set.
    In the end, it is just an experiment. Kudos to Apple for at least trying in a way that makes sense to an regular user.
    Jay

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  3. Tom D

    First off, you run?
    Seriously?
    Second, I agree with you that portable video is much too difficult to work with. Different formats, different codecs, resolutions, file sizes…it’s too much for the average user and too much trouble for even most technical users who could do it…if they thought it was worth the time. The thing is, it’s not worth the time because you usually only watch video once.
    With audio, the explosion initially happened when people had one simple format–mp3 and then Apple made it seamless to buy songs on itunes.
    While it’s easy to buy video on itunes, it’s much harder to rip your own video and put it on you ipod (or whatever). And you don’t get as much use out of video.
    Part of it is that people use audio and video differently. People tend to want to own music (so they can listen to it whenever they want), but for video, most of it is only watched one time. Sure, we all own some DVDs, but most people have many more albums than movies. That’s why video rental works better than audo rental. Notice there isn’t a store like Blockbuster where you can rent albums.
    Paying a buck for a song is’t a big deal because you’ll listen to it countless times. Paying a buck to watch an episode of Lost (or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) that you’ll only watch once…makes less sense. And it is priced terribly. With basic cable I get around 180 channels for $70 a month. That’s 180 x 24 hours a day = 4,320 hours or “video” content a month or about penny and a half per hour of video content. Of course, I only want to to watch a fraction of it, but if my video ipod (if I had one) could act as a seamless front end to my DVR…it would be great.
    As long as portable video is harder than television, it’s going to have trouble going mainstream.
    But even when it does, the “audio player” will continue to be used at least, I would guess, three times as much as the “video player.”

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