8 Comments

Summary:

Comcast updated its Xfinity app to include support for iPhone streaming. The update is a welcome one, but I wonder why the iPhone always gets treated like a second-class citizen when it comes to streaming video. It’s a case of providers missing the big (smaller) picture.

comcast-xfinity-app

Comcast’s Xfinity TV app for iOS has been updated to allow iPhone and iPod touch users to get in on the on-demand streaming video action. Before the update arrived late Wednesday, streaming was restricted to iPad devices. The update is a welcome one, but I can’t help but wonder why the iPhone always gets treated like a second-class citizen when it comes to streaming video.

Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have yet to introduce iPhone versions of their streaming video iPad apps, and even Netflix’s iPad client predated the arrival of the iPhone version by around five months. The ABC Player tfor iPad remains restricted to that platform, and here in Toronto, where major networks CityTV  and Global both offer iPad apps, only Global also offers an iPhone version of the same content-streaming software — and its introduction only happened recently, months after the iPad app went live. There are many other examples of iPad-specific video apps without iPhone counterparts, too, like HGTV.

In some ways, it makes sense. Due to its size, the iPad is a better video consumption device than the iPhone, even when one considers the iPhone 4′s Retina Display. Given the choice, I’d much rather watch video on my iPad than on my iPhone. But while I have the luxury of being able to choose, many users don’t. Estimates for active iPhones and iPod touches are somewhere between 50 and 80 million, while there are only probably about 19 million iPads active worldwide, and that’s a generous estimate based solely on reported sales. Catering only to the iPad means video apps are conceivably only reaching about one-quarter of the potential iOS audience. While the iPhone may not be as good as the iPad for mobile viewing, it’s still an attractive option to owners of that device.

Creating a universal or iPhone-specific version of an app is definitely a non-trivial undertaking, but it also isn’t an endeavor that could account for many months of delay between the release of an iPad and iPhone version on its own. There seems to be a consensus among video content providers that the iPad is for video, and the iPhone isn’t (or only sort of it, at a later date).

Even though I have both an iPhone and an iPad, it’s a priority arrangement that doesn’t make much sense to me. I am far more likely to have my iPhone when I’m on the train or otherwise mobile, and that makes it my preferred video device in many instances. It’s frustrating to know that often, the content I’d like to view is available for another, slightly larger device with the same operating system, but not for the one I have with me.

Maybe, in the case of cable companies, de-prioritizing the iPhone makes sense because the apps they create keep content in the home. But by that logic, even providing an iPad app could be considered pointless, since there are better viewing options available (i.e. the TV), and yet the apps are doing very well. In households without iPads, an iPhone app would probably do equally well.

The iPad is newer, more exciting, and arguably better suited to video than either the iPhone or the iPod touch, but for the vast majority of iPhone owners who don’t have an option, platform limits for iOS video apps are a considerable drag. Content providers would do well to consider a reversal of the current paradigm and target the largest audience first, if they want to stand out from the crowd.

  1. Offhand, battery life of the iPhone is an important constraining factor when watching or deploying long-form video to those devices.

    Share
  2. I can think of a few reasons.
    For one, a video app will very likely be extremely different for either device, so you have to decide what product to support first.

    Yes, there are many more iPhones and iPods out there than iPads, but how many of those owners REALLY would love to stream video? I am sure many, but do we have statistics on it?

    If I was in the video streaming business, I would guess it to be a no-brainer that almost anyone owning an iPad would want to stream video.

    There is also the hardware. Every iPad is equipped with an A4 or better chip and 256MB of memory. The iPhones and iPods out there, though, range to much slower chips with much lower memory. You have to optimize your code and memory management greatly to jump into those.

    There may be also server-side things. With the much smaller screen, sending a high quality feed would be a huge waste of resources, specially if it turns out most iPhone users do want to stream the video. So you have to setup things in a way that you can send a much lower quality stream to the tiny devices, something that looks as good as it can look, without hugging more bandwidth than it needs to hug. Most video streaming services don’t keep 240p and 360p encoded video to just start streaming out, and with huge catalogs it may require extra storage or horsepower and programming for dynamic re-coding.

    Put together all these things and its more logical to tackle the iPad first, put that version out there, and then start working in the iPhone/iPod version. Perhaps, also, you may want to just wait a month or two, see how the app is performing, how much income is it generating, and consider if it’s worth investing more development dollars in tackling all these issues.

    Share
    1. alchemistmuffin Tuesday, July 5, 2011

      Actually, when the iPhone 4 came out last year, it had more memory than the iPad: 512mb compared to the original iPad with 256. For a while, iPhone 4 was even powerful than the iPad.

      Share
  3. The video on iPhones is also played back in the core player and offers no form of HTML5 interactivity and control. On the other hand HTML5 video works as expected on iPads. This is one major reason we at VideoClix offer only an iPad video app and web player and not a iPhone video player.

    Share
    1. alchemistmuffin Tuesday, July 5, 2011

      That’s a real poor excuse for not supporting iPhone. HTML5 does offer interactivity to some degree on the iPhone as well. You just have to code it properly. Besides, many people who watches the video on iPad and iPhone probably wants to watch the video full way before interacting with content.

      If I were you, I would take a look at your project and incorporate some elements into the iPhone. Just supporting the iPad is no longer enough.

      Share
  4. Others have added some perfectly good reasons. I’ll add a third.

    From what I’ve seen, the iPhone is out and about. The iPad, not so much. Sure, it might end up in somebody’s briefcase/messenger bag/backpack. But it sits there until you’re someplace with WiFi. The majority of iPads are WiFi only.

    Now Time-Warner requires that you be at home to watch programs on your iPad–which makes sense considering the agreements that they have. So I’m sitting in my house. Given a choice between watching The Big Game on my iPhone while lying in my hammock in the back yard or going inside and watching it on my gorgeous 50″ plasma TV, I’ll probably choose the plasma. With an iPad, I might stay outside.

    So my iPhone would be my last choice for watching video at home. But it’d be my first choice for video on the go. However, I can’t watch Time-Warner on the go–I have to be at home. So I can’t watch it on the bus/train/plane/boat/horse, where the portability and network ubiquity of the iPhone wins.

    Having it on the iPhone, therefore, is mostly for amusement purposes.

    Share
  5. Quentin Dewolf Friday, May 20, 2011

    The rel business is on the big screen. Delivering video to tablets and phones is just a feature add. I have yet to actually see somebody whaching long form video (series, movies) on a phone in public outside of Japan. We gadget freaks clamour for these things but actual fail to need or use them when they are available. I use the xfinity android app to search for shows to record or to change the channel and would never watch video on it.
    Then you have to throw in all of the licensing confusion.

    Share
    1. alchemistmuffin Tuesday, July 5, 2011

      In my opinion, it’s the exact opposite. Many people wants to view the content on the go now days. Small screens like iPhone makes it possible and most importantly, it’s portable. For me, I use Netflix app on my iPhone almost 90% of the time when I am on the go. Even though I take my iPad with me, I rarely use the iPad version of the app, because the iPhone provides portability.

      Also, if you want the big screen, use AirPlay via iPhone. Same quality as iPad, but on big screen.

      Share

Comments have been disabled for this post