Video On Mobile Devices

Part of my morning routine each work day is to start the Weather Channel application on my T-Mobile myTouch 3G and watch a video of the day’s weather forecast. You can find the same application with video for the iPhone. I am impressed with the quality of video that is shown on the myTouch, but I also find that the program slows down the phone so I usually shut it down after watching the forecast. Throughout the day I use the WeatherBug application to see the current weather conditions.

It seems as though Apple prefers the wrapping of video by an application, based on the public fight it is having with Adobe over Flash for the iPhone. Many people, including Todd, do not want Flash on their phone because of the problems it has caused on desktop PCs. Apple claims that Flash is buggy and therefore they believe adding it to the iPhone will damage the user experience. We’ll soon learn whether those claims are true as Adobe is working to release an Android version of Flash, and Flash will also be available soon for the Palm Pre Plus.

Flash is the technology behind what I find to be the annoying advertisements that sprout out all over web sites, so I don’t personally have a strong bias towards it as a technology. However, I also do not think it should be necessary to install dozens of applications on my phone just to watch different videos. The current model is almost like if TVs could only be programmed for one channel so that to watch more channels you would have to buy and have more TVs in your home.

Today there are two components to playing video on computers. One component is a player that is installed on the device. The component is either a stand-alone application or a plug-in that a web browser uses to play video. The second component is the video you watch, which is written to files in a defined format. Common video formats are Flash (in this case Flash is both a plug-in and format) and H.264.

On your PC today you likely have a number of different plug-ins installed to display different types of content from the Internet. Because mobile phones have a limited amount of storage and program execution memory, we cannot afford to have a bunch of plug-ins on the device using those precious resources. HTML5 is widely viewed as the answer to the plug-in problem because it would remove the need for plug-ins to play video, but it just addresses how devices will retrieve and present video, it does not address the format of the video.

The iPhone and Palm Pre web browsers currently support HTML5, and Android 2.x also supports HTML5, so the retrieval portion of video for mobile phones is being addressed. However, for mobile video to be widely accessible to all devices there will need to be a video format standard that all video providers use. Much of the video on the Internet today is in the Flash video format, because it is the native format for YouTube and Hulu. YouTube has started presenting video in H.264, but Hulu has not made any committment to converting its video format, which is why Hulu cannot be played on mobile devices that don’t have Flash players. The emerging video broadcast market hinges on whether video providers switch to a video format that works with HTML5, or if a Flash player is available for all mobile phones. Obviously, Adobe would prefer that Flash players win, while Apple would prefer to not be dependent on Adobe, which is why there currently is such a strong disagreement between the two companies.