Sunday, October 30, 2005

Next from Apple: Airport Express Video?

After a quiet summer release schedule (sorry, Mighty Mouse), Apple have been showering us with product launches of late, with the iPod nano, the Motorola ROKR (ahem), the new G5s, and the 'video iPod' all announced within the last eight weeks.

Which inevitably got me thinking about what goodies they've got in store for us next. One of the most obvious additions, particularly in view of the introduction of video to the iPod/iTunes product lines and Apple's first serious foray into Media Center territory with Front Row, would be a new Airport Express capable of streaming video. It's already wirelessly sending my music, printing and broadband around the house so why not video?

Things certainly look to be in place from a software point of view, with the H.264 codec now supported by QuickTime (and by extension iTunes). In terms of formats, it's safe to assume it would handle all the video formats QuickTime currently supports (MPEG, AVI, Flash etc.) whilst continuing to leave Microsoft's WMV out in the cold.

Which output socket(s) to provide may prove more of a dilemma as video lacks a connector as universal as audio's 3.5mm stereo jack. In addition, the transition from analogue to digital is far from complete in the home media environment. As a result, failing to provide an analogue output (e.g. S-Video, Composite) would seriously limit the product's potential market, whilst omitting a digital output (e.g. DVI, HDMI) would risk frustrating early adopters and becoming more rapidly obsolete. I've plumped for a video-only Composite RCA socket in my above mockup, with the accompanying audio being delivered to the 3.5mm stereo socket.

Aesthetically, I would anticipate something smaller but not stylistically very different from the current Airport Express, as 'gradual evolution' seem to be the design watchwords at Apple at the moment if the new iPods are anything to go by.

As for timescales, I'd be inclined to think sooner rather than later, as Apple have another opportunity to steal a march on Microsoft, this time in providing an end-to-end video delivery chain which gets video content into people's living rooms without relying on the purchase of a dedicated Media Center PC. Game on...