Mobile World Congress kicks off next week, and business and technology leaders from around the world will converge in Barcelona to see what’s next in mobile tech. But one thing you won’t find amid the keynotes, networking gardens, and after parties is a frank discussion about why mobile video continues to be a huge pain for viewers and broadcasters alike.
For many, the mobile video landscape is too fragmented and frustrating. The result is that people are missing tremendous opportunities to make money.
Let’s look at the data: new research from Cisco reveals that, for the first time, video accounted for more than half of all mobile traffic in 2012. They also report that “two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017.”
So why, then, is mobile video still an unsolved problem? The short answer is Android. The longer answer is that a number of power players refuse to work together and adopt universal standards for mobile video and instead battle for digital turf, confusing the rest of us in the process.
iOS and Android made up 91 percent of the smartphones shipped in Q4, 2012, according to IDC. While Apple got an early lead in the phone wars, Android shipped more than three times as many handsets last quarter.
But the problem goes deeper than mobile operating systems.
While most modern mobile devices support basic capabilities like H.264 decoding and progressive download and playback of MP4 files, more advanced functionalities like adaptive bitrate and live streaming, which are both fundamental to an enjoyable experience, vary greatly from one handset to another.
iOS devices have supported advanced use cases, including ABR and HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) since 2009. Apple has continued to push the mobile video envelope and now enables state-of-the-art features such as mid-roll ad insertion. Android, on the other hand, remains a very fragmented platform. When it comes to video, the Android ecosystem can best be described as a work in progress.
Why is that the case? Fragmentation is by and large the biggest issue. Multiple hardware companies manufacture Android phones and tablets, and no two are the same under the hood. Android has also cycled through various video delivery protocols with each new dessert-themed iteration (what are they on now? Jelly Donut?).
Initially, Android supported RTSP as a streaming protocol, but the quality varied greatly. HLS support was first introduced in Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) but had a very limited implementation.