The most exciting news of the day is, of course, that the BBC is bringing the iPlayer application not just to the Mac, but also to the iPhone and iPod touch. And it hopes to do so within just a couple of weeks. This raises the interesting prospect of iPlayer on the Apple TV. Along with rentable movies, could this be a 'game-changer'?
Regular readers of Macworld will remember the Apple TV's inauspicious start in the UK. Originally getting just two stars from Macworld UK, the almost complete lack of content (plus a few interface niggles) meant we couldn't recommend it to our readers.
With a new interface design and the promise of rentable movies on the way, the Apple TV is finally heading in the right direction. And yesterday's announcement of BBC shows for sale on iTunes will go a long way to answering any arguments about content.
But the TV shows are still £1.89 each, which in my mind is just a bit too much. For example, I've never seen the hit show Life On Mars and I have been wanting to watch it for a while. Yesterday I pondered whether to purchase the whole series from iTunes, but at £13.99 for the whole series it just seems a bit much.
Normally I'd use this as a springboard to criticise Apple for its pricing, but in the market it actually seems fair. The DVD for the series has an suggested retail price of £40, with Amazon selling it at a more reasonable £15.99. The quick thought here is that a high-profile and popular product is being sold at 25 per cent of what somebody, somewhere, thinks it's worth and it's still too expensive in my mind. No wonder the film and TV market is in such a mess.
Which brings me to BBC's iPlayer.
iPlayer - if you live in the UK - enables you to watch television for up to 7 days after it's aired. PC owners can download it and watch it high res, Mac owners can only access the iPlayer website and watch the small YouTube-sized videos for now – but support for the full program is promised later in the year.
It's wonderful, as is today's story that iPlayer is heading towards the iPhone and iPod touch. The BBC already has a pretty stunning radio podcast site and a iPlayer customised site would be fantastic.
It does, however, pose an interesting question. Because iPlayer runs on Flash, which is why the website doesn't currently work with iPlayer. This means either one of two things are happening.
1. The BBC is currently re-encoding its iPlayer content into a H.264 format.
2. Apple is gearing up to include Flash in the iPhone and the BBC knows about it.
Both ideas have their merits. The lack of Flash on the iPhone has long been a bugbear of many a reviewer, and its presence on other phones doesn't do the iPhone any favours. Having said that, Safari on the iPhone could struggle to load Flash heavy sites. I think the lack of Flash has more to do with a poor user experience than because Apple and Adobe haven't struck a deal.
The BBC is now selling programmes on iTunes so it's already encoding materials into Apple's video format. And now that Apple has integrated a time limiting feature into its FairPlay DRM (for movie rentals) it's possible that the BBC has access to the same functionality for iPlayer.
If the BBC was to use Apple's FairPlay then it would have to go through Apple (who don’t give out the keys to their technology to anybody; the only way to get FairPlay DRM on your music/movies is to sell them through Apple on the iTunes Store). Again, the recent deal between Apple and the BBC suggests that this isn't too far stretched.
If that was the case then the BBC iPlayer could well be a stand-alone application in the iPhone / iPod touch. Like the YouTube application.
It isn't unfeasible that the BBC iPlayer will come to the Apple TV, in the same way that YouTube has. If it really went to town then it could use the peer-to-peer sharing technology even when your Mac is switched off to share your choosen files with other users.
At which point the Apple TV would go from being a humdrum product, to being a 'must-buy' device of epic proportions.
It's a shame that it'd only work in the UK, but maybe in time the BBC will figure out a way of working worldwide. What it would do in the meantime is pave the way for commercial broadcasters and prove that there is a technology that makes television important, relevant and ready for the next generation.
You could embed adverts and update them on a daily basis around time-limited content shared around the world. All watched on television and not computer screens.
Nice thought. But then… so is Flash appearing on the iPhone.
Either way I'm very happy today.