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QuickTime Goes MPEG-4

What’s next for Apple’s QuickTime format? According to Phil Schiller, vice president of worldwide product marketing at Apple, it’s MPEG-4.

"There’s been a misconception about QuickTime," said Schiller, in a Thursday morning keynote speech at Streaming Media West. "MPEG-4 is where we want to go."

Apple is so committed to MPEG-4 that it is developing its own MPEG-4 codec. During the keynote, Apple showed off demos of its codec, comparing it to MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video. Although Schiller wouldn’t comment on future products, all signs point to Apple moving toward complete MPEG integration. This could be bad news for Sorenson, the current default codec for QuickTime. "MPEG-4 is the future," he said, although he stressed later in an interview that Apple "had no reason to back away" from Sorenson.

Still, larger questions remain, such as why is it taking so long to get MPEG-4 off the ground? "Things take time," Schiller said. "But that’s not a negative thing — it’s OK." He pointed out that other standards (like CDs or DVDs) took take time to be released. "It may take two to three years [for standards] to be released but they last a couple decades," he said.

During his keynote, Schiller said that we shouldn’t worry if new codecs come along that are better than the standards. "MPEG-4 will evolve a lot over the years; it’s not frozen in time," he said.

Apple seems to be betting heavily on MPEG-4, but what if it doesn’t take off as expected? "We think it’s going to be even bigger," said Frank Casanova, QuickTime product manager, "not just for the computer industry but for devices and set-top boxes." He pointed out that major companies like Sun, Phillips and Thomson are active in the Internet Streaming Media Alliance, which is essentially pushing for MPEG-4 standards in the industry. He also noted that telcos are taking a hard look at MPEG-4 for their wireless initiatives.

But when asked why Apple wasn’t getting into the wireless arena, Schiller said, "I don’t think that’s right for us." He did point out, however, that many digital cameras now support video clips that come out as QuickTime. "We think that’s a better place to start," he said.

Still, Apple has a long way to go to get its products in the hands of streaming consumers. Despite big numbers when showing off content, like the Star Wars trailers of a few years ago, QuickTime continues to rank third (after Windows Media and RealNetworks) in terms of market share. Schiller, however, suggested that pure market share is not a valid measure of success. "It doesn’t make sense," he said, pointing out that QuickTime has wide distribution in enhanced CDs, games and many other applications. Moreover, he stressed that consumers don’t care about codecs. "It’s not about whose format wins; it’s about solving problems," he said. "It’s time to stop proving who’s beating who."

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