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Will Apple ruin our cloud video future?

dr evil uses a mac

dr evil uses a mac

Ever since they first came about, digital movies have been totally absurd. Not only are they overpriced, they are almost always locked into particular hardware ecosystems. Buy a movie from iTunes and it only plays on Apple hardware; buy the same movie on Xbox Live or the Playstation Network, and it’s the same deal. It’s ridiculous.

But it seems like buying a digital movie might finally be about to get better with the arrival of Ultraviolet. It’s a new system from Hollywood that let’s you buy a movie once and watch it anywhere. Sounds like the future we were promised, right?

Trouble is, Apple aren’t on board. And with news that Apple may be planning to launch their own cloud movie service called iTunes Replay, it seems like we have a bit of competition.

So is it possible that one company can ruin the party for all of us?

A new format war


Ultraviolet works by providing users with a digital locker where their movies are stored. However you buy a movie – whether online or a physical copy – a digital version gets stored in your locker which you can access from anywhere. This means you can buy a Blu-Ray but still watch the same movie on a tablet or your computer with no transferring or transcoding involved.

The idea of a near-universal cloud movie system is this: make buying a digital movie like buying a DVD. You never have to worry if it will work in your player or if you can watch it at a friend’s house.

The list of people who have signed up to Ultraviolet is impressive. It includes studios like Warner Brothers and Universal, tech companies like Sony and Toshiba, and software partners like Microsoft and Adobe.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it actually sounds like a great idea. Depending on the pricing, Ultraviolet seems like it would finally get rid of annoying ‘Digital Copies’ and make movie buying sane and reasonable in a way that fits the internet age.

But if Apple go ahead and produce a competing ecosystem, we’ll have a new version of Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD. Buying a movie in one ecosystem means it won’t work in the other. And just like that format ‘war’, consumers will mostly sit on the sidelines until it gets sorted.

Why does Apple matter so much?

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The issue with Apple is twofold: they’re huge in terms of marketshare and mindshare; and secondly, they tend to close off competing solutions from other players.

The first point means that anything that isn’t Apple-centric will be treated by the tech and mainstream press as a ‘less than ideal solution’. Imagine CNN or Walt Mossberg reporting on this: they’d say ‘great idea, but sorry iPhone owners!’.

The second issue means that Ultraviolet solutions on iPhones and iPads and AppleTV will be a no go. Which means that, oh, a 100 million of a key demographic will look at Ultraviolet and think “yeah, but it won’t work on my phone or tablet”. To be sure, as it’s web-based, it will still work fine on a Mac, but given how Apple are looking to slowly merge OS X and iOS, it’s worrying.

Will Apple ruin a great idea?

Making matters worse is how intransigent and stubborn Apple are. Can you imagine a Steve Jobs-led Apple capitulating to a broad industry standard? That’s just it. Who knows what an Apple led by another CEO might do.

But the real question is who will win the marketing war. Will Apple’s huge marketing clout make Ultraviolet seem like a second-rate solution. Or will consumers see the benefit in a universal, industry wide standard – the digital equivalent of DVD?

What do you think? Do you think that Apple have enough sway to stop Ultraviolet? Or is Ultraviolet a system that will eventually win out?

What do you think?

Avatar of Navneet Alang

Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang

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