Amazon did manage to beat Apple into the movie download business by less than a week, but today, Apple managed to beat Amazon in almost every other way. Apple already had more television shows available than Amazon announced, and its client, iTunes, was already far nicer than Amazon’s. Amazon offered higher quality video files and added movies. Apple has “responded” (though it being a response is more an accident of timing) by matching Amazon’s video quality, adding movies (though not nearly as many as Amazon, this being the sole advantage that Amazon still enjoys), and releasing significant improvements to iTunes. Furthermore, Apple’s service is available to users of both Macs and Windows computers, and unlike Amazon’s, their video files play on the ubiquitous iPod.
If those clear advantages aren’t sufficient to sway most consumers (and thus content producers) to Apple’s platform, then a device uncharacteristically previewed by Apple at today’s event likely will. The iTV is a device that will connect your television to your wireless network (assuming you have one), allowing you to play all of the media, audio and video, on your computers through your home entertainment system. I’ve been doing that with my music since the release of Apple’s AirPort Express, and I’ve been really happy with the results. With the promise of the ability to do that with video, Apple has solved the last problem that consumers have faced with video downloads: most people don’t want to watch video on their computer. So while Amazon offers the ability to watch its videos (maybe) on portable devices no one owns and whatever you can connect to a Windows computer, Apple offers (or soon will offer) the ability to watch its videos on iPods and the television on which you already watch video.
There’s nothing comparable in the Windows Media world, and there won’t be for quite some time. At this point, the only way to compete with Apple as a distributor is to sell video without DRM. Whoever can do that will get free use of all of the infrastructure that Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and others are building, without any unnecessary hardware or other dependencies. Sadly, I don’t think any content provider will be that imaginative.