Apple (AAPL) loves to sweat the small stuff, so we’d be really interested in hearing how the decision-making went on this one. Warning: It’s wonky.
When you download one of their new hi-def TV episodes via iTunes, you’re really downloading two files — one is a large hi-def video, the other a smaller, standard-def video. This ensures you’ll have a great-quality video to watch on your computer or Apple TV, and a smaller-size file to put on your iPod or iPhone.
But unless you’re going to use both files immediately — unlikely — that’s not very efficient. The “smaller” file of the free ’30 Rock’ episode Apple is offering (257 megabytes) takes up 36% of the space that the larger, hi-def file takes up (720 megabytes). That means we need 36% more space on our hard drive to store it, and — because both downloads start at the same time, 36% more bandwidth to download it.
In the perfect world, that wouldn’t be an issue. But last we checked, both hard drive space and bandwidth are finite resources — especially if you buy Internet service from a cable company that’s keeping track of your downloads. And downloading 36% more video means you’ll probably have to wait a bit longer before either video is ready to watch, transfer, whatever.
So, what are Apple’s options?
- They could ask you if you want to download one or both files when you purchase the episode. But that’s an extra step — not exactly elegant.
- They could, by default, only send you the HD file. That means that if you wanted to put the TV episode on your iPhone or iPod, you’d have to download the second, smaller file separately. That might piss people off, if, for instance, they’re not connected to the Internet, or in a hurry.
- They could make iPhones and iPods capable of playing hi-def video files. But that wouldn’t be the best use of smaller portable hard drives, and would use up more battery power — hardly a resource the iPhone can spare.
- They could do what they’re currently doing, assuming you’ll delete the smaller file if you want to be more efficient with your hard drive space.
What’s best? We don’t know. Maybe you have a better idea — let us know in comments.
But Apple’s not the first company to have to make this decision. When Amazon (AMZN) opened its Unbox store two years ago, it initially transfered two files to its buyers, too: A larger movie/TV video to watch on their computers, and a smaller file for their portable gadgets.
For a number of reasons — like the fact that their smaller videos were only compatible with niche portables that few people actually own — they later dropped the smaller files, asking customers to download them manually. And now they’re focusing on streaming videos, anyway.
Still, something to think about.
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