Why Wireless TV Will Fail

By David Haskin Mobile Pipeline

The usual torrent of press releases touting wireless video has grown into a flood lately. Despite the intense hype, though, wireless streaming video is going nowhere fast because it fails the primary test of a successful mobile app.

I say that after having spent some time reviewing Verizon Wireless' V CAST multimedia service, which has wireless streaming video at its core. Verizon did as good a job as can be done when it comes to playing video on a tiny screen at a relatively meager 15 frames per second, but I found the service unsatisfying.

One reason was that I didn't care for the content Verizon Wireless offers. That's a subjective thing for which I don't blame Verizon. The bigger problem for me is that video simply isn't a mobile application.

You can't just add wireless transmission to something to make it a successful mobile app. Rather, successful mobile applications need at pass at least one of two tests, preferably both. First, the app must relate to the process of being mobile. Watching CNN has nothing to do with being mobile. Getting train tickets or airline schedules or the weather does.

Second, it has to work with the physical aspects of being mobile. That means that a) the content must be attractive to use on mobile devices and b) they must be usable while you are, literally, in motion. Watching CNN on a cell phone screen is intrinsically unappealing because the screen is so small and you have to stop doing what you're doing to watch. By contrast, streaming audio works is an ideal mobile application, a fact proven by the millions of music players being sold.

I understand why streaming video is being pushed so hard. Wireless operators are desperate for new revenue streams and phone vendors need technology that will require users to buy new phones. Also, 3G service, which is finally starting to spread, is fast enough for video. And, mobile video has caught on, to some extent, in isolated countries like Korea. In addition, I'm sure marketers will succeed, up to a point, of making wireless video a cool must-have type of thing.

But even if there is some initial uptake, I'm still not buying into the hype. Before wireless video becomes a success in the West, the nature of the content must change as well as the devices to which it is delivered. Until that happens, all the hype will come to nothing.
This guy gets it. The mobile phone as we know it is not a suitable device for TV watching. Yet, every single mobile phone operator and device maker is pushing this as the next big revenue driver for the mobile industry. A quick look at Google News listing for mobile TV brings back 3,800 news stories. The public posture of these companies towards mobile TV is 'if we build it, they will come (and pay a monthly fee)'. I've got the Samsung A700 phone which has mobile TV capability. But I haven't signed up for an extra $10 or $15 a month for a lot of the same reasons outlined in this article. Mobile TV in its present form is neat, but doesn't add a lot of value for me.

Before too long, these mobile phone companies will figure it out. Nobody wants to watch TV on a tiny screen. People need mobile applications that they can interact with while they're walking around, not just while they're sitting and waiting for a bus or something. We need location-aware software that tells us what's around us and relates it back to our own list of action items. And all this of course needs to be delivered in a heads-up, hands free form factor.

The market is ready to see the evolution of the mobile phone from the clamshell design to the eyeglass form factor. The Nomad in its current incarnation may be designed for auto mechanics, but a sleeker version with a Blackberry sized belt-worn computer, and a nicely miniaturized display unit could be the mobile phone of the future.