iPods With a Purpose

03 November 2005

I had this idea to buy, preload, and sell a bunch of video iPods. The idea worked. Recently my church put on a conference (Prosperity With a Purpose) that drew thousands of businessmen and church leaders from all over the world. The theme was “prosperity in third world countries” and we had speakers like Tommy Barnett (of the Dream Center in LA) and Tom Deuschle from Celebration Centre in Zimbabwe, Africa. The conference is hosted annually, and is free.

Anyway, prior to the conference (about a week before, actually) I pitched the idea of offering preloaded video iPods to attendees. We normally sell DVD’s and audio CD’s of each session immediately following anyway, so I thought we might as well encode the video and stick it on iPods. I asked for a small budget, thinking I’d buy just 5 30GB models, and setup a small table in the lobby to sell them. My boss liked the idea so much she said to get 10, and she’d have it announced from the pulpit.

Trying to reserve my excitement, I called the local Apple Store to see if they had any in stock – they did, but not many. I rushed down to pick them up, and got 5 white and 5 black. The rep who helped me was the “small business liason,” whatever that means. He told me that Apple was doing a better job at stocking the video iPods than they had with the nanos, but that they were still running low.

That weekend I did several tests to find the best method of preparing video. I quickly found encoding “for iPod” using QuickTime pro was a drag – taking sometimes close to double real-time (tests were done on a dual 1ghz G4). Both H.264 and MPEG4 video seemed to produce similar results as far as quality, and MPEG4 was definitely faster to encode, but still not fast enough … for me anyway.

Then I found HandBrake. HandBrake rips and encodes video straight from a DVD, and does it really fast. I averaged 45fps doing standard MPEG4, 700kbps, at 320x240 resolution. (Same dual 1ghz machine was used.)

The process was as follows:

  1. Live session is recorded to DVD
  2. DVD master is taken to duplication for immediate sales
  3. A first-run copy of the DVD is brought to me
  4. I encode the DVD session as the next session is happening

When all was said and done the iPods were loaded and ready to go just hours after the last session. The total amount of content we loaded on was about 2.5GB worth, and took roughly 5 minutes to transfer over USB 2.0.

We sold all 10 iPods … the first night.

We had to make two more runs to the Apple Store to pick up iPods because people kept reserving them. Altogether, we sold a total of 41 iPods. We’re still selling them, in fact (though we’ve decided to stop buying, preloading, and selling the iPods and just sell the content itself on a data DVD).

In hindsight I know I should have taken some pictures of the event – me and Matt surrounded by 40+ iPods, packaging, cables, PowerBooks, etc. It was awesome. Maybe next time we’ll anticipate the demand better and actually have time to think about documenting our “fun.”

NOTE: For those interested, all we did is remove the plastic wrapping from the box, peel the box (without damaging the sticker seal), cut access to the dock connector of the iPod, use our own cables to transfer the content, return the still-sealed iPod to its case, and slip in a small greeting/instruction sheet before closing it all back up. The packaging was kept as vanilla as possible to ensure the Apple-package-opening experience was untampered with.