The present and future of post production business and technology

There’s no QuickTime on Apple’s Mobile Devices Either!

In the discussion about Flash-on-iDevices following yesterday’s post it occured to me that not only was there no Flash on the iPhone, et al., but there was no QuickTime either!

Not what QT was at least. The iDevices support H.264 video and AAC audio, primarily in a MPEG 4 file wrapper (although some devices will play H.264/AAC in a MOV wrapper) that is really not what QuickTime has been. (More below). Try playing a Sorenson video file on an iPad. What about QuickTime interactivity (Wired Sprites)?  Ever seen a QT VR play on an iPhone?

Of course not. QuickTime is not supported on any Apple device other than desktop and laptop computers. I also believe that the QT I loved and evangelized heavily late last Century is destined for the scrapheap. It’s been increasingly obvious, since around 2002/2001 that Apple decided that the future of web video was MP4: open standards. Initially they supported the MPEG-4 Simple Profile (just MPEG-4 in Apple’s world) in QuickTime 6 and then H.264 – the Advanced Video Codec from MPEG 4 Part 10.

Now, a lot of MPEG-4 is adopted from QuickTime. Apple donated the QT container to the MPEG group for consideration as their container format. Because of that MPEG-4 can do pretty much anything that QT could do, except there are very few implementations of anything beyond basic video playback. So with the QT container at the center of MPEG-4 it was easy for Apple to adopt and support this evolving (at the time) technology.

So QuickTime became the pre-eminent MPEG-4 player. When it came to the Apple TV, iPhone, iTouch and now iPad, the decision was made to only support simple MP4 playback. When QuickTime X was announced it referenced “the experience of the iPhone video” suggesting that QuickTime X was a different approach. When it was released it’s clear that QuickTime X will be the next generation of consumer-facing video playback.

So I expect that QuickTime X will never get the advanced features that QuickTime currently has. There’s no business model for it within Apple, which was always the problem with QuickTime. Frankly that Apple never provided a development environment was why Flash was able to so quickly “take over”. Remember that in QuickTime 6, Flash 5 was a supported media type. (Support was dropped because of security concerns with that version of Flash.) It took Flash to version 8 before it equalled all the features of QuickTime 3! (Seriously).

Few people made use of the advanced features of QuickTime. Our Australian company was one of them, making all the movies for the DV Companion for Final Cut Pro, and most of the other Intelligent Assistants with QuickTime wired sprite animations so the file size was acceptable. We were in the era of small hard drives after all. There was never a development environment from Apple: Totally Hip stepped up with our development environment (LiveStage Pro). Had there been a business model within Apple for QuckTime then the story of the web would have been different.

The advanced features in QuickTime have had no development since, well, QuickTime 4 (before the return of Jobs to Apple). I believe, without proof, that there was a fundamental shift within Apple around that time to, really, abandon the features they could get no return on, and make QuickTime the best MPEG-4 player; a great architecture for creating media and the foundation of their total media strategy. Without the advanced features, because, by this time Flash had “won” the interactivity war.

Now we can have better interactivity using features from HTML5, Javascript and CSS, which are all web standards overseen by a body outside of one company. It’s not just Flash that won’t see the iDevices, but any resemblance to the old QuickTime won’t make it either.

And I’m OK with that. QuickTime – MOV distribution – served Apple well and continues to power their iLife applications and Professional Video and Audio applications, but without the features that it had, and no longer needs. Apple are always “good” at dumping technology that no longer meets their need. I think it’s one of Jobs’ strengths.

I also believe Apple are being consistent by not allowing Flash: it’s on a par with their own technology also not getting on the platform.