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.
What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).
I continue to be impressed with how the mobile video market is gaining traction. It seems like rarely a day goes by now where there isn't an announcement by a technology vendor, content provider or service provider related to mobile video. Though it's still well behind online video's adoption, all of the pieces continue to fall into place for mobile video's continued growth.
From a consumer usage standpoint, the iPhone has of course been the key driver. Whenever I'm with an iPhone owner, I'm struck by how deeply they've integrated video into their mobile experience. It's not just that they've downloaded TV shows and movies to watch on planes and so forth, but rather how natural it is for them to start playing a video and then pass their phone around so others can watch also. The iPhone has turbocharged the whole concept of shared, out-of-home video experiences.
And though the iPhone's 30 million estimated units sold represents a huge footprint of new mobile video users (in turn generating a large ecosystem of app developers), from a device standpoint, new entrants are poised to grow the market even further. Devices powered by the Android mobile operating system are continuing to come to market, with the most recent, high-profile example being Motorola's Droid, offered by Verizon Wireless. Verizon is putting a huge marketing push behind the Droid, contributing to a growing sense of awareness by consumers of the appeal of smartphones and their video capabilities in particular. Not surprisingly given its Google parentage, YouTube has also weighed in on the benefits of Android in allowing easier uploading at higher video quality.
In addition the iPhone and Android, among business users, Blackberry continues to dominate and internationally, Nokia has the largest smartphone position. This all suggests there will be vigorous competition among these 4 platforms, leading to lots consumer-facing promotion and rapid innovation. In a recent AdAge piece, IDC estimated that 6% of U.S. cell phone users, or 18 million people, will watch video on their cell phones this year, rising to 27 million in 2013.
Content providers have taken notice of these dynamics and have been aggressively creating video-rich mobile apps, initially for the iPhone, but now also for Android, Nokia and Blackberry smartphones. In a recent conversation I had with Ujjal Kohli, CEO of Rhythm NewMedia, which specializes in "mobilizing and monetizing" broadcast and cable networks' TV shows, he explained how clients continue to bulk up their teams devoted solely to mobile video initiatives. An example of this is Warner Bros, which is among a number of film studios now pursuing mobile initiatives. In addition to building mobile video apps, Rhythm is also creating a mobile video ad network, like Transpera (which I last covered here). As mobile video usage surges, advertising will grow right alongside it. Mobile advertising in general received major validation earlier this week as Google acquired mobile video ad display network AdMob for $750 million.
With all this mobile video activity, technology providers are increasingly their attention to serving their content customers. Just yesterday, Kyte, a video platform company that focused early on mobile, announced that it has launched "application frameworks" for Android and Nokia, following on previous frameworks for iPhone and Blackberry. As Gannon Hall, Kyte's COO told me, its content customers have pushed Kyte for other platforms. Now with native support for all four platforms, Kyte's customers can quickly and cost-effectively adapt existing apps, incorporating full social and monetization functions. While Gannon believes Kyte has taken the lead among OVPs in offering mobile capabilities beyond just APIs, he envisions others ramping up as well. Some evidence of this is today's partnership announcement by VMIX and Qik, to integrate mobile live streaming into VMIX's platform. More will surely follow.
There are plenty of other examples of how the ecosystem supporting mobile video is being built out, such as Clearwire announcing this week $1.5 billion in additional capital raised for its 4G WiMax network, Verizon leading a group of venture investors in a $1.3 billion "LTE" 4G opportunity fund, Adobe releasing Flash Player 10.1 targeted for mobile devices, AT&T accelerating deployment of "HSPA 7.2" technology in 6 cities to boost 3G speeds and Akamai launching its "Akamai HD" network, which among other things supports HD video streaming to the iPhone. These and many other examples form the foundation for ever more robust mobile video experiences in the future.
One of my predictions for 2009 was that after many fits and starts, mobile video finally seemed poised to take off. Nearly 11 months into the year, I think we're seeing ample evidence of this happening. I expect only continued growth going forward.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
As promised, each day this week I'm sharing one prediction for 2009, with each one getting progressively bolder as the week progresses (and yes, I'll concede - as a number of you privately pointed out to me - yesterday's forecast that the Syndicated Video Economy would grow in '09 was a pretty wimpy start). So moving out a little further on the limb, today's prediction #2 is that video delivered directly to mobile/wireless devices will take off in '09, finally.
For those of you who have been following mobile/wireless video delivery, this has been a market that's perpetually been "just around the corner." In fact, a little over a year ago when I was planning VideoNuze, several people suggested that I shouldn't just focus on broadband delivery (as I define it to mean high-speed wired delivery of video to a home or business), but also mobile/wireless video. But after doing some due diligence I concluded that the market wasn't there yet, and that the vast majority of new video activity would be focused on wired broadband. Indeed, I think that's how '07 and much of '08 have shaped up.
However, having tracked recent activity in the mobile video space, I think '09 is going to be a big year of growth and recognition for this new medium (in fact, an old friend gently chastised me over lunch last week for even drawing a distinction between wired and wireless delivery, saying, "come on, it's ALL broadband!" I think he makes a very fair point.)
What has traditionally held back mobile delivery are a lack of video-capable devices, voice and text-focused wireless networks and a closed "on-deck" paradigm, which is the wireless carrier's version of the cable and satellite industry's proverbial walled-garden.
These limitations have now been mostly addressed, or are in the process of being addressed. On the device side, the most notable video-capable device is of course the iPhone, which by my calculations has already sold over 13 million units and is on its way to almost 20 million by the end of the year. Everyone I know who has an iPhone - especially kids - are infatuated with the video feature (if you've never seen it, especially now using AT&T's 3G network, get thee to an Apple store immediately!). In '09, the iPhone is poised for even greater popularity as Wal-Mart begins stocking it, possibly for just $99. Recession or not, the iPhone is going to remain white hot.
Not to be lost in the iPhone's phenomenal wake are many other new video-capable phones. There's of course the new G1 from T-Mobile, powered by Android, Google's new mobile OS. I got my first look at one last week, and though not as sleek as the iPhone, I was able to watch excellent YouTube video. There are plenty of others to choose from as well, including the Samsung Propel, the LG Incite, the new BlackBerry Storm and the latest mother-of-all-phones, the Nokia N64, which comes with 16GB of internal memory (enough for 40 hours of video). Whereas many of us today carry phones incapable or barely capable of viewing video, in '09 the replacement process will be in full swing.
Of course, all the cool devices in the world don't matter unless you have a robust underlying network and the freedom to view what you want. On this front, the wireless carriers' push to build out their next generation 3G networks finally allows sufficient bandwidth to view high-quality video (though not HD yet). Next up is 4G, first from Clearwire, the SprintNextel-Intel-Google-cable industry consortium that's deploying its WiMax network with speeds of up to 6 Mbps downstream being promised. There's also MediaFLO, Qualcomm's mobile broadcasting platform that has steadily built out an ecosystem of technology, carrier and content partners.
Last but not least are the consumer-focused services and applications. Until recently, this market has mainly consisted of packaged subscription services like Verizon's VCast and MobiTV, which itself recently announced more than 5 million subscribers. The combination of new devices and networks promises to bring an increase in on-demand, web-based, ad-supported video consumption (plus paid downloads to be sure, courtesy of the iPhone mainly). Another interesting twist is the advent of live broadcasting from mobile devices, powered by providers like Qik, Kyte and Mogulus. These all supercharge the Twitter micro-blogging phenomenon.
All of this underscores why the distinction between wired and wireless broadband really becomes meaningless over time. The mobile experience is going to seem more and more like the one you have sitting at your computer, with the added benefit of portability. To throw a blue-sky variable into the mix, one wonders if at some point you'll simply plug your phone into your TV and watch streamed or downloaded video that way, rather than through a set-top box or a wired broadband connection. There's a convergence concept for you!
Years in the making, mobile/wireless video is finally upon us, and '09 is going to be a big year. That's good news for all of us as consumers, and it surely means I'll be working a lot harder to stay on top of things.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Tomorrow, 2009 Prediction #3