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Cringely: Apple/Blockbuster Speculation

Since today seems to be Speculation Day™, here's another one for you, this time a little more grounded in reality than Dvorak's column about Apple dumping Mac OS X in favor of Windows. Robert X. Cringely, who has a much better track record at examining the tech industry and then predicting what companies will do, has posted today a speculative and engaging article about the potential powerhouse partnership of Apple and Blockbuster.

"Apple's Blockbuster product strategy is simple. Start with a new iPod that has video- and audio-out capability. This iPod -- which will be just as good at playing songs as any iPod that preceded it - will be more than just a video storage device. It will be a video player. No make that plural - players - a whole family of video-out iPods, some with flash storage and others with little disk drives.

Take your Video-out iPod to Blockbuster, drop it in a kiosk dock then download from the local xServe your choice of 50,000 movies. You can rent the movie or buy it and you can even choose the resolution, which may or may not affect the final price. Take the iPod home, drop it in the dock attached to your TV and watch the movie. H.264 decoding takes place in the iPod in hardware.

For Apple the point here is to sell iPods to people who might not otherwise every buy one (my Mom, for example), to bring digital downloads to people who don't have broadband or even a computer, and to make it all incredibly easy. You don't even have to return the videos when you are done, since they will automatically time-out."

Such a move would truly be a win-win for both Apple and Blockbuster. Apple could supply the back-end (X-Serves, X-Sans, etc.) to run such a system. They're already signing distribution deals with the movie studios entertainment distributors and it'd sell a significantly larger number of iPods to users. All Apple would need is the name recognition and physical locations of a chain like Blockbuster to make such a program work. Blockbuster would have a new revenue stream and enjoy the status of being aligned with a technically-savvy company like Apple. And let's not forget that Steve Jobs is now intimately aligned with Disney, a company that actually is somewhat clueful about emerging technology.

Of course this is entirely speculation, but I think Cringely may be on to something. Apple's clearly been planning something (remember, Apple tends to plan things a least a year or two ahead of an actual release). Perhaps this is it; perhaps they're finally putting the "pod back into iPod."

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