As predicted, Google today announced an online video retail service that will soon start selling TV and movie material directly over the web.
This is not the kind of news Steve Jobs wanted to hear, but he must surely have been expecting such a thing. Now he needs to activate some kind of plan to fight back.
The problem is this: Apple owns digital music, as near as dammit, thanks to worldwide popularity of iPods and the success of iTunes on Windows as well as OS X. Everyone has been predicting a similar move into video for some time now, but it took longer than some people hoped for the video-enabled iPod to appear. And even now, with a video iPod and video in iTunes, the content selection available is limited. Apple does not, by any stretch of the imagination, own digital video.
And all the major internet companies have been closing in on the same goal. Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google want to own digital video too, and this time they are not nearly as far behind as they were when Apple first introduced the iPod and the iTunes Music Store. This time, they know exactly what to offer. And they have many more users and customers than Apple.
A large part of Apple’s success with music was the iPod, and while the video iPod is a neat little device, my personal view is that for most people, portable video is not what matters. It’s neat, yes, but it’s not the most popular thing people want to do with video content. They’d much rather watch it on a large screen.
So it follows that this time round, the iPod does not represent the kind of trump card that it did in the music battle.
Faced against the might of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, Apple looks like small fry indeed in this looming battle for online video content.
Unless… unless perhaps it can unveil some great new hardware that gives it the same edge that the iPod gave it. Something that screams to consumers: “Buy me! I’m so cool!”
Let’s hope Steve and his team have been planning Tuesday’s keynote with this in mind. The ball’s in their court, and they need to hit an ace.