There’s a poorly kept secret in Silicon Valley: A lot of people are using their iPhones to stream live video over the web. The reason this is kept secret is because technically, no one is supposed to have such an app on their iPhone. You see, Apple has not allowed any of these live-streaming apps into the App Store. One reason is because these apps use hacks to get the iPhone’s camera to record video. But another is undoubtedly because AT&T does not want live streaming video clogging up its network. But if Apple and AT&T think videos like this and this were shot on something like a Nokia N95, they’re dreaming.
Even the video-crippled iPhone 3G has proven to be a great tool for shooting streaming live video, and now with the launch of the iPhone 3G S — which actually supports video, the implications are huge. Companies like Qik and Ustream should be shouting from the rooftops, “Finally!,” right? So why is everyone so quiet when it comes to using the iPhone 3G S for streaming live video? Well, because it’s still far from a sure thing.
Speaking with representatives from Qik and Ustream — two of the leading live streaming video companies — both seem to be completely in the dark when it comes to any streaming live video from the phone functionality in the new device. Obviously, they’re both very interested in it (and that’s probably an understatement), but it sounds like Apple and AT&T aren’t too interested in talking to them about it, right now.
The iPhone video capture problem is now out of the way, as Apple announced it has opened its video APIs to third parties, but that doesn’t mean that live streaming video output will be okay, Qik co-founder Bhaskar Roy tells us. He says that his team is currently digging through the new APIs in the iPhone 3.0 software, but it’s hard to know anything for sure until they get their hands on the actual iPhone 3G S hardware, which will be available next week.
And while it would be easy to blame the life or death of such functionality solely on AT&T, the whipping boy when it comes to all problems iPhone-related lately, it could well be Apple’s APIs that are limiting such functionality. “I haven’t heard specifically about AT&T’s concerns,” Ustream founder John Ham tells us.
Still, there’s good reason to think AT&T is plenty happy not to see any live streaming video apps anytime soon on the iPhone. It has been widely reported that AT&T is prohibiting iPhone apps like the Sling Player from streaming video over its 3G networks due to bandwidth concerns. This is true even though AT&T allows the same app to work over its 3G network on other phones. It’s crap. And we could be looking at getting handed the same plate of crap when it comes to sending live streaming video from the new iPhones.
And it seems pretty unfair to these video startups trying to provide their service to customers. “Currently, viewing YouTube videos on the iPhone presents a load that is likely larger than the aggregate amount of bandwidth used by many individual broadcasts [on Ustream] at any given moment,” Ham notes. That’s interesting because YouTube, which is owned by Google, obviously has had an official app on the iPhone since day one, and AT&T doesn’t seem to ever complain about that.
Why any of this matters is because live streaming video from your phone is proving to be an invaluable tool for certain circumstances. Despite its popularity, most people still don’t carry around Flip cameras at all times, and even if they did, those don’t stream live to the web. But having such a tool that is always on you, on your phone, with such capabilities is huge. How else could we get great videos cornering Google co-founder Sergey Brin at a conference or the Google Goats?
AT&T has been working to overhaul its 3G network, upgrading to High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) which can run at 7.2 Mbps — which the new iPhone will work with. Of course, that won’t start happening until “later this year,” so our best hope for live video support over 3G may be then. If we don’t have such a capability at least by then, that’s just pretty pathetic — no matter whose fault it is.