YouTube on your iPhone


(T) Everyone wants to watch videos on his or her mobile device. Mobile users want to access user-generated content (UGC) from YouTube, watching news from CNBC and sharing photos and videos with family and friends with Flickr.

There are basically two kinds of Web video portals: UGC portals such as YouTube and Facebook, and news portals such as CNBC and The New York Times.

Improvements in the Network and Mobile Device Technologies

The penetration of mobile multimedia content is being enabled by recent improvements in the wireless network and the capabilities of the new mobile devices. The wireless network with its upgrade from 2G to 3G and the move from feature phones to smartphones and from smartphones to the iPhones will foster a new generation of mobile multimedia applications that are just at the dawn of being developed.

Improvements in Video and Audio Formats

Adoption of multimedia on mobile devices is accelerated also by better video and audio technologies in particular:

  • Standard encoding technologies such as H.264/MPEG 4 for video (previous technologies included H.263, MPEG 2/3)
  • Standard encoding technologies such as MPEG4/AAC+ for audio (previous technologies included MP3/ AMR/AAC)
  • And by better video players such as Adobe’s Flash widely used by content providers such as YouTube (other video players include Apple QuickTime and Windows Media).

Multimedia can be Downloaded or Streamed

Content providers have two ways to supply multimedia content to their customers: either providing a download from a Web site or streaming it from a server to the client. Streaming scales for large traffic loads and provides better control of the connections from the server while downloading is simple and cheap and not blocked by firewalls. Streaming is provided over RTP transport (that includes also a signaling protocol RTCP  to enable connectivity and a feedback protocol RTSP to control the delivery of the media) while download content is provided over HTTP transport.

A hybrid between downloading and streaming, progressive download has been adopted by many popular Internet video site sharing in particular YouTube. With progressive download, the video clip is downloaded over HTTP from a Web site but begins playing as soon as a portion of the file has been received.

Monetization of the Content will Accelerate Penetration of Multimedia on Mobile Devices

The content, the network, the devices, and the technology are all necessary together to enable mobile video but not sufficient. What is missing is still monetization of the multimedia content. But that might be changing as well: MySpace, MTV and a number of other content providers seem to have made some progress toward achieving that goal as reported by TechCrunch.

While a lot of factors are in place to accelerate multimedia content on mobile devices, still a number of challenges remain.

Network Congestion on the Wireless Network

The enjoyment of watching a video on a mobile device is very often impacted by the occurrence of congestion in the wireless network. The typical YouTube video clip is 320 kps while MySpace is 400 kps and news and sports video clips are between 500 and 600 kps. As soon as the available network bandwidth provides a bit rate lower than the video streaming bit rate, the video will be stalling or stopping on the user device. Unfortunately, that case happens very often to mobile users whoever is the provider of the wireless service.

The iPhone has still some Deficiencies for Video

The iPhone is certainly the most sophisticated mobile device on the market and “An Insanely Great Piece of Art” but even the iPhone has a few deficiencies when it comes to video.

The iPhone is not 3GPP compliant. 3GPP is the standard organization that provides the technical specifications for the 3rd Generation of Mobile Systems.

It does not support Adobe Flash players. That has led YouTube to create a site specifically serving iPhone users. However, Adobe has announced working on a new Flash version for the iPhone ARM processor.

The iPhone does only support MPEG 4 encoding and video downloads over HTTP. The iPhone is not enabled for video streaming. The reason seems to be because the iPod was designed for music download and the initial draft design of the iPhone was likely based on re-engineering the iPod. However, Apple has filed a patent to stream media from an iTunes server to the iPhone (as reported by TechCrunch). And many start-ups have products to stream audio from an iTunes server to an iPhone client but not over a wireless network over a WiFi or LAN network.

The Next Killing Video Application: Moving from UGC to TGC (TV Generated Content)?

What is more interesting is that a number of start-ups such as Qik or Flixwagon are working to stream videos from the iPhone to other iPhones or other computers as a service. That a killing application!

Imagine every iPhone users broadcasting from his or her iPhone a real-time video to thousands or millions of other users. Imagine every iPhone users reporting in real time at any time, anywhere in the world what he or she is seeing and listening to. Would that be the next generation of CNBC, TV5 or BBC and the next step from UGC to TGC (TV Generated Content)?

Definitely, YouTube on the iPhone is just the beginning.

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Categories: Mobile