As the biggest annual mobile conference - the Mobile World Congress - gets underway today in Barcelona, new initiatives from some of the biggest names in technology underscore the growing importance of smartphones and of mobile video specifically. Among the most important headlines:
- Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer is unveiling Windows Phone 7 which includes Xbox LIVE games, Zune video and audio, plus enhanced sharing. With Phone 7 Microsoft is continuing to vie for position in a crowded smartphone operating system landscape.
- Sony Ericsson is launching "Creations" allowing users to create and publish video, audio and images from their mobile phones in collaboration with professional developers.
- AT&T and 11 other mobile service providers, which together have about 2 billion subscribers, are introducing a new applications store designed to appeal to developers and compete head-on with Apple's App Store.
- Symbian is taking the wraps off its new Symbian 3 open source release, which includes support for HDMI, so that users can connect their Symbian phones to their TVs and watch 1080p video, in effect creating a Blu-ray player in your pocket.
- Intel and Nokia are merging their respective Moblin and Maemo software platforms to create MeeGo, a unified Linux platform to run across multiple devices.
- Adobe is providing an update that by mid-2010, its AIR runtime for building rich applications will be available for Android and that Flash 10.1 will be generally available for various mobile platforms, including Android. In addition, Adobe is announcing that Omniture, which Adobe recently acquired, will add mobile video measurement within its SiteCatalyst product.
While each announcement, plus countless others, have their own significance in the burgeoning mobile ecosystem, the one that's most relevant to mobile video specifically is the coming availability of Flash 10.1, especially for Android. Mobile video has been hampered to date with the lack of Flash player support on iPhones, so its pending launch on Android phones threatens to scramble the relative appeal of these devices for users eager to watch video from sites like Hulu on their smartphones.
Late last week I got a glimpse of how significant Flash on smartphones is from Jeff Whatcott, SVP of Marketing at Brightcove, which today is announcing an optimized version of its platform for Flash 10.1, to be released in the middle of 2010. Adobe has made the beta of Flash 10.1 available to content providers, and Jeff has a video showing how it works with Brightcove for its customers like NYTimes.com and The Weinstein Company.
Brightcove has done 3 things - optimized its template for mobile devices (so navigation and interactivity is seamless on the small screen), enabled auto-detect of mobile devices (so the correct Brightcove template is served) and leveraged cloud-based transcoding (so a mobile-ready H.264 encoded video is streamed). The goal is for Brightcove's customers to be able to deliver an optimized mobile and Flash experience identical to their online experiences, with minimal additional work flow. Brightcove provides the appropriate logic for mobile templates to its customers which they embed in their pages. When a user visits from a mobile device and clicks to watch video, the right Brightcove-powered experience is delivered.
All of the above activity is happening in the shadow of the now-dominant iPhone (and coming release of the iPad) which do not support Flash. As non-iPhone devices - and content providers - progressively incorporate Flash this year, it seems like the smartphone market is poised for another new turn. Flash is the dominant video player and as users look to replicate their online experiences on their smartphones, the void of Flash on iPhones will become even more pronounced. I don't underestimate Steve Jobs or Apple's ability to compete, but this will be one place where it feels like the iPhone will be at a real disadvantage. Apple is keen to prevent Flash from extending its online hegemony to mobile as well, so it will be interesting to see how it chooses to play this.
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