Why the “photo iPod” won’t do video: it’s all about battery life

AppleInsider has an entirely credible scoop suggesting that Apple is going soon to release a fifth-generation iPod that will have a 60Gb hard drive (as announced earlier this year by Toshiba) and store photos. There’ll be a 2″ colour screen, and outputs for TV.

But, you might ask, why not video too? Even though the screen’s tiny, some people are sufficiently masochistic to try to watch stuff on them. Is it that Quicktime is too hard to squeeze into the memory?
Nah. Think about it. It’s because of battery life. Video murders batteries running hard drives.

The iPod presently has 32Mb of RAM (or similar) into which the hard drive caches the next chunk of songs. (That’s why the iPod box promises “30-minute jog protection” or similar.) Hard drive spins up, fills RAM, goes to sleep. Nice and easy. If the battery was running all the time, you’d suck your battery dry very quickly.

I forecast this photoPod will do photo slideshows on its screen (perhaps while playing music; you could have 64Mb of RAM, split half and half for music and photos, or dynamically allocated). That’s easy: set the slideshow, and you can stuff 30-odd photos into the RAM buffer.

Contrast that with video: MPEG-2 uses up 1Gb/hr = about 17Mb/min. So you’ve squashed it down dramatically to accommodate your tiny screen, but even a factor of 10 improvement means you’re using twice as much memory per minute as with music. Your batteries are going to suffer for it; and that’s before you get on to the increased energy demanded by the colour screen, which for video needs to be bright and specific enough for you to be able to distinguish movement.

So, a photoPod, not a videoPod. Though I’m sure people will use it to store video…
One point: all this is my own musings. No insider contacts were killed in the making of this post.


  1. Makes good sense. Shame though.

    I’m looking forward to the day when environmentally-friendly batteries, or solar power or some such, can provide enough juice for me to take all 3 extended Lord of the Rings movies over to someone’s house on my iPod, wirelessly jack it into their tv, and then, y’know, actually watch said movies.

    I guess if I’m more excited about the hardware set-up than the film, there might be something wrong with me.

  2. Yes, no video displayed on the internal screen.

    But with a “AV-dock” that supplies power (no bigger than an Airport Express), video-out to the TV from the iPod is within reason. Although I still think this feature will be delayed until H.264 comes with Tiger, and UWB arrives for wireless video (Airport Express Theatre) in the house.

  3. Your video stats are a bit wacko (17Mb/min) to say the least. Fact, the gameboy advance has video – the iPod has a small screen (in fact smaller than a gameboy) which means video can have the exact same file size as audio. The iPod can play video in the exact same way it plays audio.

  4. Umm, except you need a brighter screen, to begin with, than for audio. What sort of video does the GBA play? And what batteries does it use? (Replaceable AA or AAA, aren’t they?) And how long do they last? Important data points.

    There are Portable Media Centers out there which do video. My point is that just because Apple *can* do the video thing doesn’t mean it *will*. People complain enough already about iPod battery life.

  5. but Apple are experts on battery life. I’m sure they will some solution. ha ha

  6. The video I want is like this.
    A video camera with zoom and battery (to supplement the iPod) that has a 3 foot cable that connects to the iPod. Movies are saved to the iPod by the camera in a format that loads directly into iMovie and Final Cut at firewire speed. This would save wasted time of downloading the movies from a camcorder, that is so outdated. Come on Apple, make my dream come true.

  7. >But Apple are experts on battery life. Im sure they will some solution. ha ha

    Sorry, but I think this is ridiculous and once again shows how misinformation is propagated and becomes fact.

    My iPod is 3 years old early next month, and is still on its first battery. I don’t know how long it gives, but its still many hours of play. When it finally dies, I know I can get a replacement that will give about 50-100% longer than original for about $30. (an advantage of the success of the iPod is all the 3rd party addons). Apple can also replace it for a bit more.

    Apple laptops have been at the forefront of battery technology for years – among the first to use Li-ion batteries for instance. Apple laptops consistently get around 4 hours of use.

    So, I consider Apple to be very competent on battery life. Contrast that with:

    1. My 1 year old Sony Digital camera for which the promised 90 minute battery life never even came close to materialising, and which has failed to operate the camera in key situations despite showing it is charged (replacement cost = to iPod battery).
    2. My JVC Digital camcorder, for which againt the 1 hour promised charge never materialised, and after just a few charge cycles found that I could get approximately 5 minutes.
    3. All the mobile phones I’ve had, which (with the exception of the last Nokia) lose 50% of their charging ability easily within a year.

    There is not a rechargeable battery out there that will run and run, and those expecting the iPod to be have solved the problem of this are being entirely unreasonable.

    Where I do think people have (had) a case, and where Apple seriously slipped up was in not providing a replacement service – initally appearing to users like they’d bought a product with an 18 month lifespan. They were arrogant in not addressing this sooner and have paid the penalty, but to criticise them for not being experts is far off the mark. I would far rather trust an apple rechargeable product than that from anyone else.


  8. Interesting, my G3 PowerBook battery died after 1 year, the usage time went down to 10 minutes. “Apple laptops have been at the forefront of battery technology for years”, my ass.

  9. >Interesting, my G3 PowerBook battery died after 1 year, the usage time went down to 10 minutes.

    Well, my 5 year old G3 Powerbook battery is still giving at least 1 hour plus time, and with a newer battery I get over 5.5 hours combined now (and with a G4 in it too). I would maintain you received a faulty battery, and you would be entitled to a replacement under the terms of your warranty. And, no need to be rude! Who would you say has been at the forefront then?


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