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Streaming Mobile Video At Mobile Monday

Mobile video was the hot topic at last night's Mobile Monday in New York. Those of you who know me know that I am something of a cynic when it comes to this subject. This is not to say that I don't think that mobile video has a future, but I do think several developments are needed to make it work, including better battery life and enhanced screen sizes. Maybe the
March 20, 2007
Mobile video was the hot topic at last night's Mobile Monday in New York. Those of you who know me know that I am something of a cynic when it comes to this subject. This is not to say that I don't think that mobile video has a future, but I do think several developments are needed to make it work, including better battery life and enhanced screen sizes. Maybe the iPhone will change all of this, but we have to wait to see. Now on to the mobile video demos.Five companies showed off their video solutions last night. The first was Tegic Communications, AOL's mobile business unit. Tegic specializes in T9 text input for cell phones. While this has little to do directly with mobile video, Tegic showed off the next generation of T9 functionality, which is designed to evolve the technology from just a shorthand for inputting text into a form of on-device search for cell phones, media players, and other mobile gadgets. The next generation of T9 will intelligently serve up content stored on a device as well as generic words, making it a search tool as a well as a communications mechanism.

On the strictly video side, Tegic showed off a Wi-Fi mobile media player that can stream high-quality video of a wireless LAN connection. The video demo was impressive. But, I remain skeptical about how useable this device will be, especially outside of a home Wi-Fi setup. Connecting handhelds to Wi-Fi is often challenging, especially when users travel away from their home networks. The demo last night didn't convince me that this Wi-Fi media player was any easier to use than other handhelds I have seen before when it comes to authenticating on an outside WLAN.

The next company was pretty old school: TV Guide. TV Guide is not the first media brand I think of when it comes to mobility. Frankly, when I do think of it, I usually picture my grandfather doing the crossword in the back of the magazine, sitting in his La-Z-Boy watching Wheel of Fortune.

But this isn't your grandfather's TV Guide. The company showed off its streaming mobile video content and some of its localized TV search listings. TV Guide works two ways in the mobile space. They sell direct subscriptions to users and they re-sell their content through the carriers. While I found their mobile search experience OK, it is hardly unique. The mobile video content was fine, but I wouldn't pay for it.

The next presenter, Clickova, was the most interesting of the evening. Clickova is a combination Web/mobile application that uses a piece of Java software on a handset to automatically upload pictures and videos a user stores on their mobile phone to a Website. This way a user can access all the pics and videos they shoot from their camera phone through a Website where they can either download the content or send it to others through e-mail or share it with online services like Flickr. Clickova only needs a GPRS data connection to work and it automatically uploads a user's pics and videos.

My biggest question for Clickova is how they plan to stop someone like Flickr (or Kodak) which suddenly decides to offer a similar service. Right now, Clickova claims that it will not compete with Flickr and that it hopes to work with the company as a potential partner.

My other concern with Clickova is the carriers. In years past, carriers have tried to make it difficult for users to access pictures and videos from their camera phones. The carriers hope to force users to pay for services rather than let subscribers use mobile phones as free photo centers. If Clickova can't figure out a way to work with the carriers, it won't go very far.

Next up was Ortiva Wireless, a company whose technology improves the quality of mobile video streams. Ortiva's technology monitors the available bandwidth on a given mobile phone and adjusts the quality of the video to match the bandwidth. Technically speaking, Ortiva scales the video from higher to lower quality (and vice versa) based on how much data the device has at a given second. The effect is that the video stream looks better and that users don't struggle with jerky video streams or gaps in the broadcast. Ortiva even demoed the video on a GPRS phone, and while the stream was slow, it was watchable, unlike most video streams I have seen over GPRS or CDMA2000 1xRTT data connections.

The final presenter last night was a mobile usability firm, Useable Products. The company showed off a recent study where they examined the usability of mobile video on three carrier services, Amp'd Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless. The usability study in question limited itself to one device for each carrier, so the results do not speak for the services across all devices at each of these service providers.

Contrary to what mobile video cynics like yours truly have claimed in times past, the Useable Products study found that all three mobile video services were in fact OK in terms of basic usability. Not great, but certainly better than many insiders claim. The services all have a lot of work ahead of them, but for now, most of the users were able to access the services.

Thanks to everyone present last night for a great Mobile Monday. I hope to see everyone again next month. And I am sure I will run into many of last night's attendees (as well as many of you readers) next week in Orlando at CTIA Wireless.