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The State of Mobile Video 2017
Device innovation slows down ("phablets" are plenty big already), while network improvements forge ahead (5G is on the horizon, right? But where?).

Another 365 days of mobile video technology are behind us, and another 365 days of change lie ahead of us. In many markets, the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” rings true. However, with mobile video, the “things” tend to change dramatically from year to year. 2016 was no exception, and 2017 is shaping up to be “the same.” Let’s begin with a look back at the trends we highlighted in last year’s Streaming Media Sourcebook to see how those predictions held up.

The Zenith of “Phablets”

Last year, we noted that every flagship device from the top-tier phone manufacturers had 5" screens or larger. Some were much larger, like the Nexus 6P and Moto X Pure, which had almost 6" screens. Based on the top 10 devices available in early 2017, evidence suggests that we have finally reached peak screen sizes. Once again, nearly every top device has a 5.1" or larger screen, topping out with the 5.7" LG V20. However, the iPhone 7 brings the average down with a relatively “tiny” 4.7" screen. Combine that with the unfortunate fate of the volatile Samsung Galaxy Note removing it from the running, and the result is a stable or slightly smaller screen size for consumers to select.

With screen sizes remaining nearly constant this year, the resolutions have similarly been unchanged. Six of the top 10 phones have the same wide quad high-definition (WQHD) 2560x1440 pixel displays that were popular last year. Three of them have a 1920x1080 HD display, and the final iPhone 7 has a 1334x750 display. Although the sizes and resolutions are approximately the same, all of 2016’s phones have slightly higher pixels per inch (PPI) counts, with nothing less than 400PPI. In short, our phone screens have remained largely the same, and at this point we don’t really need higher resolutions for anything.

Google’s Nexus 6P offered an almost 6" screen, which might very well mark the zenith of the “phablet.” 

Vertical Video on the Rise

Last year, we tried to reason our ways into understanding the massive vertical video trend. Studies show that smartphone users spend most of their time with their devices in portrait mode and therefore cannot be bothered to rotate the device when capturing video. Anyone who has spent time viewing amateur YouTube content can attest to the fact that vertical video is alive and well. Consider Snapchat. The ephemeral messaging behemoth boasts 8 billion video views per day with over 100 million users. That works out to each viewer watching 80 videos per day. Talk about serious user engagement. While users can opt to record videos in landscape orientation, the default is portrait. If you don’t think that affects user habits, think again.

Vertical video found acceptance in 2016, to the point that digital marketers like Deli Agency sang its praises. 

The Mobile OS Battle: A Virtual Stalemate

Another year has made little change in the mobile OS market share among the top four names. (Yes, there are four.) In the U.S., Android and iOS continue grappling for first place with Apple’s OS edging out Google 53 percent to 44 percent. BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone all fall to 1 percent or less. When the rest of the world is included, the story changes dramatically. Android takes a massive 68 percent with iOS trailing at 20 percent in second place. Once again, users who are already tied into Apple or Google’s ecosystem are tending to stay with what they know.

YouTube Hangs On to the Throne

Despite an increasingly crowded space of competitors, YouTube remains the top dog of online video for the general public. With 400 hours of video uploaded every minute and almost 160 million unique users (as of August 2016), the Alphabet-owned streaming video site still beats out rivals like Vimeo, Yahoo, Facebook, and Vevo without breaking a sweat. Even though YouTube began rolling out mobile live-streaming within its app to select users in summer 2016, it did so at a time when once-heralded live-streaming apps like Meerkat were going under entirely. It could be that Google’s approach to live stream is more “slow and steady” rather than “ship or die.”

Though it’s facing stiff competition from the likes of Facebook and Vimeo, YouTube is still the leader in mobile video. 

All the “G’s”

Cellular industry pundits posited that the advent of 5G was not as close as certain companies would have you believe. While Verizon teased testing 5G in 2016 and rolling out the service in 2017, it seems its proposed timeframe was a bit too ambitious after all. The agreed-upon expected date for 5G’s true rollout was 2020, and that year is still being touted as the actual year. Whether 5G is really around the bend or not, it will make a major impact beyond just faster data. Samsung Networks head of marketing Derek Johnston provided a few comments highlighting what the South Korean company has been able to accomplish with pre-standard 5G tech. “5G technology provides mobile video streaming with greater capacity and spectral efficiency to address massive file size, low latency, and higher speed to deliver higher-quality video feeds with no jitter or signal loss.” In 2016, Samsung tested transmitting “4K video over the air to a moving vehicle with no jitter or lag.”

The Future

In device news, 2016 brought us some genuinely novel changes worth keeping an eye on. Augmented reality is trending with the immense popularity of Pokémon Go. In the summer of 2016, Pokémon Go developer Niantic said it would begin allowing advertisers to purchase “sponsored locations” to entice Go “Trainers” to its businesses. Virtual reality has just begun its rise on mobile devices. Google Daydream has brought the most similar competitor to the Samsung Gear. These two VR headsets operate with only a phone placed in the front of the hardware. A few years back, Google introduced Cardboard, bringing basic, stereoscopic VR to nearly any current smartphone. The rudimentary device has proven to be wildly popular, especially since Google open-sourced the design so people could build their own.

When Google announced its 2016 Pixel phones (a departure from the long-running Nexus series), it also introduced the Daydream headset, which is a spiritual successor to Cardboard. Daydream stands out from other VR headsets by being made of washable, breathable, lightweight fabric. With a price point similar to Samsung’s Gear VR, expect adoption to climb for both of these devices. While hardcore gaming and ultra-immersive experiences will remain on high-end tethered setups like those from Facebook’s Oculus and Sony’s PlayStation VR, simpler devices like Daydream and Gear will allow mobile users to engage in VR content more spontaneously. This could prove to be a boon to advertisers and retailers who encourage shoppers to use their portable headsets to receive unique experiences and special discounts.

Lenovo launched the first Project Tango phone (a Google/Alphabet project) for public consumption in November 2016. This 3D depth-sensing phone has a short list of dedicated apps that allow mobile phone users to interact with their world in novel ways. An app from home improvement chain Lowe’s allows a user to virtually visualize furniture and appliances in a space through the phone’s lens. Combine this phone with a Daydream or Gear headset, and real-time virtual prototyping becomes that much more realistic.

Other hardware changes are proving slow to come, although we may see a folding phone from Samsung. OLED displays, wireless charging, and biometric ID are continuing to see further adoption by manufacturers. OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays are still much more expensive, but their properties make them especially appealing for device manufacturers. They require no backlight. They can be transparent and bendable, which could make for some really innovative designs. They’re much thinner and lighter than LED displays, and they provide incredible contrast ratios that can be infinite since individual pixels can be turned on and off.

The smartphone is still central to most other devices like wearables, although the Internet of Things (IOT) is making these devices more independent using 3G, 4G, and eventually 5G spectrums. For now, smartwatches and their ilk still mostly rely on having a phone in your pocket to be especially useful. But being able to leave your phone in the house/car/desk will soon become a reality that allows you the freedom to completely rely on that wearable for communication. Whether or not the social stigma of talking into your wristwatch or necklace will fade over time is a subject for a different article.

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