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Will Apple Let the VLC iPad App Survive?

The open-source, lightweight, plays-anything video and audio program VLC is finally coming to the iPad. This could mean a revolution in video and audio–but will Apple let it happen?

VLC

No matter what kind of computer you have or what OS you use, VLC is usually the best way to play back video. On Mac, Windows, and Linux, VLC is an ultra-lightweight program that plays anything you throw at it, whether it’s a pirated high-def video in .MKV, a ripped DVD in H.264, or a streaming Flash video. It takes a little bit of know-how to get the most out of it, but for most uses, it couldn’t be simpler: drag a video, any video, onto VLC, and enjoy.

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Applidium announced that it has submitted a version of VLC to Apple‘s App Store, for use on the iPad. That’s big news–it’s the first mobile version of VLC on a major American platform, and Applidium even boasts that an iPhone and iPod Touch version are forthcoming.

VLC on the iPad is a big deal precisely because of Apple’s tight restrictions on video formats. The iPad (and the iPhone, and every other mobile Apple device) is extremely limited, only playing back a few video types (H.264 up to 720p, MPEG-4 in standard-def, and motion-JPEG, which nobody uses). If you download video from other sources, like BitTorrent or Amazon, you’re out of luck–you’ll have to convert it, which takes time and hard drive space. VLC would make that whole process history.

The specifics of VLC on iPad aren’t known, but they’re important. iTunes won’t even recognize most of the files VLC plays back effortlessly, and since iTunes is the only way to get video onto an iPad, it’s not clear how you’d get your newly supported videos to your tablet. Perhaps there’d be an over-the-air system, or a third-party bit of software to trick iTunes into allowing forbidden video. (Of course, given the current state of disarray of the BitTorrent community caused by the massive European police raids, that might not be a problem.)

What’s also interesting is that VLC is also an accomplished media streamer, and, notably, great at playing back Adobe Flash, which is anathema over at Apple. Applidium refused to state one way or the other whether Flash would show up in the VLC iPad app.

Will Apple allow the VLC app into the App Store? As much as I’d love to see it, I have my doubts. Playing back something like a 720p .MKV file with subtitles would prove a significant strain on the iPad’s low-power A4 processor, likely reducing battery life and performance–not something Apple is willing to let slide. And, of course, if it plays Flash, Apple might just ban it on principle. SkyFire, a Flash-supporting web browser, is still in App Store limbo, and Flash is probably why.

So, media junkies, don’t get your hopes up. VLC on the iPad might be a non-starter.

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Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in Brooklyn (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).

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About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law

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