Mobile TV

Sprint Had a Good Instinct

The Samsung Instinct has apparently been selling extremely well for the company, even leading to shortages. According to a press release:

Just a few days after hitting store shelves, Samsung Instinct has become the fastest-selling EVDO handset in Sprint history. Instinct was first available exclusively to current Sprint customers on June 19 breaking records for the initial launch of any Sprint product. Instinct became available to all customers on June 20; sales continued to be brisk with Instinct breaking Sprint's record for the first week of sales for any device.

The record pace of Instinct sales has led to temporary shortages of the device at some locations across the United States. Sprint and Samsung are diligently working around the clock to increase inventory in all sales channels. Samsung has increased efforts to deliver new supplies of Instinct on a daily basis and manufacturing plants are operating at full capacity to keep up with the demand.

The brisk sales reflect the touch-screen iPhone-like appeal and the growing demand for access to the mobile Internet, which is how the device is positioned. (Sprint is paying people $20 to put the phone in "home movies" that they upload to YouTube.)

Meanwhile over at Verizon yet another touch-screen, iPhone clone (the LG "Dare") is being released. It's claim to fame is video but it lags in other areas.

Video vs. TV on Mobile Phones

I remain quite skeptical of the potential for mobile TV in the form of an "upsell" to subscribers. Video on mobile devices is a different matter however. People are watching video to varying degrees and will do so in increasing numbers over time.

In the US the iPhone leads the way; almost 40% of current owners watch video. Then again the device is intended as a video iPod. Other phones, such as LG, Samsung and HTC devices will catch up, not to mention the Blackberry Bold and the forthcoming "Thunder." But improved user experiences and video quality won't necessarily translate into mobile TV subscriptions.

Now SlingMedia has adapted the Slingbox for the iPhone so that one can watch one's home TV on the device. It's not going to be available to the public for awhile. But it offers a glimpse into what may become a very popular app for the Apple device as people access their home programming on the phone.

However, paying for a mobile TV service (such as AT&T's MediaFLO) is still a pipe dream for US carriers.

Mobile TV Showing Some Traction in Europe

I continue to be bearish on mobile TV in the US: the price + poor experience = limited demand. In Asia it's a different story but there you have a more advanced infrastructure, phones and, perhaps most importantly, different cultures. But the NY Times reports that mobile TV has some adherents and viewers in Europe:

Every day in Switzerland, 40,000 people watch a 100-second television news broadcast on their cellphones. In Italy, a million people pay as much as 19 euros each ($29) a month to watch up to a dozen mobile TV channels.

Japan is the leader in direct mobile television, with 20 million cellphones equipped with TV receivers, followed by South Korea with 8.2 million, according to In-Stat, a research and consulting firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. In-Stat estimated that there were 29.7 million mobile TV viewers worldwide at the end of 2007. That is expected to almost double, to 56.9 million, at the end of 2008, driven by growth in Japan.

Italy has been an early leader in Europe, with service beginning in 2006. The largest mobile TV broadcaster on the Continent is 3 Italia, a cellular operator owned by Hutchison Whampoa of Hong Kong, with 800,000 customers, about 10 percent of its total phone clients. The million Italian viewers watch up to a dozen channels.

Swisscom offers a 20-channel viewing lineup, which costs 13 Swiss francs ($12.50) a month.

In order for mobile TV to happen on any kind of scale in the US, you need the following to come together:

  • Better phones with resolution equal to video iPods
  • Pricing that is bundled as part of a high-end subscription package (or entirely ad-supported a la conventional broadcast TV)
  • Streaming/transmission that doesn't stutter or get continuously interrupted

Even with all these things, Americans will have limited appetite for full-length content. Instead, clips and short-form video will prevail.


Related: Wired offers a review of AT&T's new mobile TV (MediaFLO).

First Look: Skyfire Very Good, Beats Opera Mini

I got my link to the Skyfire browser (beta) earlier today and just had my first chance to download and play with it. After about half and hour of doing so, my first impressions are very positive. Generally speaking it's better than the Opera Mini (I couldn't get the Opera Mobile browser to work on my Windows Mobile phone). It's easy to use, fast and the image/text rendering and resolution are good.

It didn't render Gmail as well as the Opera Mini browser however. And the zoom feature is somewhat more awkward than Opera Mini and quite a bit more so than Safari on the iPhone.

I also couldn't enter a blog post on Wordpress but I was able to post to my Facebook account.

As with the Opera Mini or Safari, there's lots of panning and zooming to read articles or view content (this also raises the issue of how effective ads will be in this environment). There are a few situations in which a WAP site is less work and potentially more to the point on even a smartphone screen. Indeed, there's probably some Platonic mobile ideal that exists between WAP and a full HTML/XHTML browser.

Skyfire does support flash and video relatively well, although the streaming was not entirely smooth and I had volume/sound problems with the videos on YouTube and other sites I saw. It's difficult for me to tell whether this is the network, the browser or both.

However, bottom line, I have to say it makes my Windows Mobile phone better and is hands down better than the current mobile, WAP-centric version of IE.

Amid Consumer Non-Interest, AT&T Readies Mobile TV

AT&T is reportedly ready to launch Qualcomm's MediaFLO, as its mobile TV service to rival Verizon's VCast. It will debut on two phones (LG and Samsung) and be available in 58 US markets. Ten channels will be featured, eight of which are common with VCast and two which are exclusive. Here are the common channels: CBS Mobile, Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile TV, Fox Mobile, MTV, NBC 2Go, NBC News 2Go and Nickelodeon.

There's plenty of emprical evidence that the public is not (yet) interested in mobile TV. Mobile video clips (e.g., YouTube or movie trailers) -- maybe. Though reports are that the quality of MediaFLO is decent, the infrastructure doesn't really support mobile TV in the US. Further, as an additional cost item ($15 per mo.) it's not going to fly for most users.

If mobile Internet access is not perceived as necessary by many mobile TV is even farther out from the needs of users. The Wall Street Journal cites Yankee Group data that reflects approximately 5% of US consumers are willing to pay for mobile TV. This is attitudinal rather than behavioral; so I would guess the numbers in reality would be somewhat less.

Pew mobile usage data
Source: Pew Internet

Currently M:Metrics has reported mobile TV viewing among <4.6% of the US user population, while Pew reported 10% (at any time) and 3% "watch video" on a "typical day." Those numbers, extrapolated, do turn out to be a lot of people potentially with an appetite for video on their handsets, though not necessarily mobile TV. Most people are simply going to pass on the offering because of cost and inferior user experience.

Yet there's almost a compulsion among the carriers to develop mobile TV offerings because of the competitive environment and the need to develop new revenue sources. But for some time to come, mobile TV will not be one of them.

Mobile TV and Distributed Mobile Video

There's quite a bit of hype and anticipation around mobile video and TV. There were tons of mobile video-related announcements at CES and CTIA last year, etc. But because of cost, complexity and a sub-par user experience generally, I'm skeptical that users will want to pay to watch it at this point.

There are some interesting scenarios where mobile offers an extension of my video entertainment experience (i.e., on SlingMedia, AOL Winamp or iTunes) and I access it remotely or transfer it to my mobile device for travel, etc. But other than iTunes and the iPod, that's a minority use case for some time to come.

However, I stumbled across an enterprise company called Reality Mobile (via an email from one of the Where 2.0 advisors). The company has an interesting technology that basically allows real-time video streaming from ordinary cellphones to other cellphones. While the company isn't positioned for the consumer market the technology might be used in very interesting ways by, for example, a social network of distributed mobile users.

One version of this plays out in the context of the equally abhorrent and banal "life casting." But there are also interesting video extensions of today's local social directories (e.g., Yelp) that might utilize this. Also one could imagine Facebook using a technology like this in mobile.

I could go on with several hypothetical scenarios that involve archived and real-time video streaming on mobile. My point is only that the form of "mobile video" that might gain adoption and take off could be quite different than the more conventional "mobile TV" models that are being developed today.

4G Standards Battle Brewing, Will Consumers Care?

Fortune writes about the brewing 4G wireless standards battle. It's an interesting piece but the issue, as the article points out in the end, is about consumer demand for services like mobile video.

One of the top consumer complaints about the "mobile Internet" is that network speeds are too slow. Advanced mobile networks will help address that but there's also a very mundane issue here in the form of pricing. Many people currently do not have a mobile Internet plan. One reason is that they don't perceive a need, another is price.

Carriers and other content producers should not expect consumers to fork over money for premium services too much beyond what they're paying for mobile voice and data now. For example, people will NOT be willing to pay for voice, text messaging, mobile Internet -- and mobile TV. These services will all need to be bundled in a relatively affordable package to get consumers to bite, otherwise they'll just avoid things like mobile video or go to where they can get it for free.

Helio Launches a Better YouTube App for Ocean

This morning youth-oriented MVNO Helio announced a new YouTube application for its popular Ocean ("don't call it a phone") device. CrunchGear thinks it bests the iPhone in this category (see screenshots).

The free application is intended to fully replicate the YouTube experience in mobile and expand beyond simply watching videos to video capture and upload (with GPS tagging). It also provides access to YouTube's full range of community features.

Mobile video is an area of much hype and anticipation but one that is still way too complicated for most people. It will be a popular use case once network speeds an usability issues get solved. Helio operates on the Sprint 3G network.


Related: The Google Mobile Blog explains more about how it works.