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Android Video Basics

Trends can swell up in a hurry in the technology world. Apple had a lock on the smartphone market, and then suddenly Android is making headlines and gaining traction. Apple's iOS is still the dominant player, but Android is advancing quickly. If you want your videos viewable to mobile users, you need to know about the demands of Android.

To help you out, we spoke to Bob Mason, co-founder and CTO of Brightcove. We asked him the essentials you should know about Android, so you can plan your own mobile video strategy.

Why is Android hot? Android is getting a lot of traction with consumers right now, says Mason, and it's getting a big marketing push from manufacturers like Motorola that are promoting it as a platform. For software developers, Android resonates because it's a more open operating system than Apple's iOS. It's getting a lot of buzz, and that buzz is driving sales. Content creators should note that cutting-edge technophiles are moving to Android, so if you want to reach them you'll need to make sure your videos play on Android devices.

What video format do Android devices support? Android devices currently play H.264 video. There's a little confusion about this, says Mason, since Google introduced the WebM open source format at this year's Google I/O conference. WebM hasn't been adopted by any devices yet, though.

When providing H.264 video, make sure you offer multiple bitrates, says Mason, so that your videos play over different types of connections. H.264 video can be used by Apple devices and Flash players, so this single codec is flexible. Even most Internet-connected televisions support it. There are four H.264 profiles, though—baseline, main, extended, and high—and you'll want to encode at each. Mobile devices use the baseline profile, while larger-screen devices will use the high profile for better video quality. The high profile requires more CPU power to decode the stream.

Different phones support different versions of the Android operating system. Is that an issue for content providers? Yes, it does matter a little, says Mason. Currently, Android devices are transitioning to the new OS, version 2.2 (Froyo). Upgraded devices can run Flash, which should open up a lot more web content to them. For devices not yet upgraded, you'll want to build pages in HTML5.

The complete transition for all Android devices should take about six months. Unlike with Apple, different manufacturers make Android phones, and so the 2.2 release needs to be tweaked for each device. Since the OS is open source, manufacturers also like to optimize the code for their products.

Will compatible video automatically be viewable on other Android devices, like the upcoming Google TV box? This is unclear, says Mason, but likely it will. As long as Google TV supports H.264 video, HTML5, or Flash, the same video should work. This is where encoding to multiple bitrates will pay off. You don't want to show the same video quality on a mobile phone as on a large-screen TV, and you don't want to have to go back and re-encode content later. Brightcove recommends encoding to six different rates, to deal with network and screen variations.

Should content-makers provide browser-based video or create an Android app? Providing browser-based video is essential, says Mason. When two friends are talking over dinner and need to check a fact, they're going to go to the web. You need to be ready for that kind of everyday usage. Apps are a good choice for organizations that have strong, persistent relationships with their fans.

How do I create an Android app? Android apps are coded in Java, so you'll need a team of developers that understands Java. While experience in coding for Android isn't essential, says Mason, experience coding for mobile devices is. Then your team will understand how to create a great mobile experience for your viewers, and how to take advantage of mobile-specific capabilities, like location awareness.

Since your app can work with the same video files as the Android's browser, you don't need to create special video files. Brightcove offers a software development kit to streamline the process of creating Android apps.

Plan carefully the kind of user experience you want to provide. Remember that successful video apps often do much more than just serve video, Mason says. The New York Times app includes video, for example, but offers a lot more.

To read up on Brightcove's offerings for Android development, read StreamingMedia.com's article, "Brightcove Unveils Android SDK, Templates for Flash 10.1."

Troy Dreier's article first appeared on OnlineVideo.net

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