Australia on the iLife map

Matthew JC. Powell
6 February, 2008
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Well, that kind of came out of nowhere, didn’t it? With little fanfare and even less fuss, Apple Australia flicked the switch on its iPhoto printing service this morning, meaning that for the first time ever Australian customers have the full feature set for our digital shoeboxes. And not a moment too soon — we’ve been paying full price all these years too.

It appears that the books at least are beeing printed overseas, so it’s not a matter of Apple Australia having done a local deal in that regard — just that Apple US has discovered international shipping. It’s a little less clear with the prints, as the ordering process doesn’t indicate they’re shipping "from abroad" as the books do, plus a little "Print @ Fujicolor" logo appears on the print ordering page, indicating that Apple might be subcontracting that work out to — which offers the same range of print sizes at comparable prices. This should mean that the prints are delivered fairly quickly. I’ll be ordering a bunch, and I’ll let you know when they arrive.

The next question is of course printing from Aperture, Apple’s somewhat higher-end application that does much the same as iPhoto but for professional photographers. In the US, Aperture users have the same range of services available as iPhoto users. In Australia, not yet. For all we know, that’s this afternoon’s news.

This could bode well for the other big gap in Apple’s international offerings: the iTunes Store. Video content such as movies and TV shows started appearing on the US Store years ago, but still all we have on the Australian Store is music videos and some Pixar shorts. Meanwhile Australian content providers such as the ABC and the Pay TV channels are making their content available through their own web sites while Apple’s shelvs sit empty. There has to be a solution.

And perhaps there is, with the recent appointment of Kevin Swint (ex Wal-Mart) to head up International distribution of movies and TV shows via iTunes. Of course, it’s impossible to know how low on Swint’s list of priorities Australia might be (we were about the 22nd country to get an iTunes Store at all) but the appointment of someone dedicated to the international market at least indicates Apple isn’t dividing the world into US and THEM.

Rent asunder. A big part of the impetus behind Apple’s new international push appears to be the introduction of movie rentals from the iTunes Store, and I have to say, that’s the least interesting feature Apple’s added to one of its products for a while. Allow me to explain.

Apple is clearly winning the batle to be the dominant provider of digital media in the world. A big part of that is the "ease of use" in the iTunes Store/iTunes/iPod chain. Another huge chunk of it is that Apple’s digital rights management (DRM) scheme is actually pretty reasonable. Where a lot of digital download services stop you doing perfectly legitimate things you might like to do with your content, Apple only stops you doing unreasonable or illegitimate things. Yes, greater freedom would be great, but so would free money and the banks aren’t going to lift their security any time soon either.

With video from the iTunes Store, you can do pretty much what you want — copy it to as many iPods as you want, have it sitting on as many as five computers or Apple TV set-top boxes, share it over your local network. You can’t make a DVD of it that will play in a set-top box, but you can back up the content offline and retrieve it later. All very reasonable.

With the iTunes rental service, things get a bit stupid. You rent something, and it will sit on your hard drive for 30 days. Copy it to another hard drive, and it deletes itself from that first hard drive. Copy it to an iPod, and the hard drive copy vanishes. You can only have it on one device at a time. OK, that’s like a DVD I guess, but a DVD doesn’t vanish after 30 days.

At any point in that 30 days, you have 24 hours in which to watch the film. From when you press play, the clock is ticking. If you’re interrupted by a crying baby and don’t get back to the movie in less tan 24 hours, bad luck it’s gone.

When I rent a movie, I often want to watch it more than once. Ot invite a friend round and watch it wih them. With Apple’s service I can do that, but I have to finish watching it within 24 hours of when I first pressed play. I don’t often want to watch a movie multiple times in 24 hours.

(Telstra’s BigPond movie download rental service has a similar 24-hour limit, and if you’re watching the film at the time the 24 hours is up it keeps going until the end of the movie rather than stopping abruptly when the clock runs down. I assume the same for the Apple service but haven’t tried it yet — I have a US iTunes account so I will have a go and get back to you.)

A better system, in my view, would be that you can have the movie for as long as you want, watch it as many times as you want, but you can only have one movie at a time. Rent a second movie and the first one disappears. That’s more in line with the system from BigPond movies and NetFlix, wherein you hire DVDs for as long as you want but you don’t get any more until you return them. That’s reasonable. It allows a lot of freedom, no late fees, no mad dash to the after-hours return slot, but it restricts what I can do in a limited way.

Apple’s odd system — this movie will self-destruct in 30 days or 24 hours whichever comes first — is an odd aberration for a company I thought had got DRM about right.

Anyway, where did I start this? Oh yeah — iPhoto books. Cool. About time.

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