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Time Has Come Today: Mobile Video Year in Review

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Most experts agree that 2007 was the year that mobile video became a reality. Statistics bear this out: Mobile phone penetration has reached the point at which 72% of adults in North America own a mobile phone, and more than half of all North American households boast two or more phones, according to Forrester Research’s Benchmark 2007 report, "Mobile’s the Most Mainstream." More to the point, according to Telephia/Nielsen Mobile, between 2006 and 2007, mobile video revenues grew an astounding 198%.

What’s behind this growth? For years we have heard about how we would all be watching videos on our mobile phones, but there have been problems with small screens, slow delivery, lack of content, and poorly designed devices. This year was the first time that I actually bought a movie, created a video worth watching, and watched live TV all from my various mobile devices.

This "year in review" is no preview of things to come; at last, we can talk about a breakthrough in technology adoption that has actually happened, as opposed to one that pundits promise is right around the corner. In 2007, we had a flurry of new devices from the iPhone to the Nokia N95, the variety of content grew exponentially from major network shows to user-generated content, and the list of services for mobile video spanned from content providers to video creation and submission tools.

It’s not surprising to see Forrester Research report that the mobile phone has become the "the most ubiquitous personal technology in North America," but it is something that bears reiteration. We have the internet to thank for the growth of video in the last 5 years, but as we become a more mobile society, the devices we use to consume our video have become smaller and more portable. That large screen in our house is still our favorite way to watch video, but as the devices have gotten better, more and more people are watching (and creating) video on-the-go.

So let’s talk about who were the big winners, who were the big losers, and what 2007 taught us about the state of mobile video. What devices captured our eyes, which ones blinded us, and what did we learn?

Winners: Devices
Apple iPhone—Best for Movies
The most talked-about device of 2007 was Apple’s iPhone. With buzz beginning even before the announcement at Macworld in January 2007, this device was a clear winner for consuming mobile video. One of the consistent barriers to watching video on mobile devices is the small screen size. With a 3.5" (diagonal) widescreen, the iPhone has enough screen real estate to show videos at 480x320 resolution. With this phone you can watch full-length movies and not have to worry about your eyeballs bugging out. Double tap on the screen and enjoy a full widescreen experience. Those long plane rides went by a lot faster, and I didn’t have to open my laptop to enjoy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Another winning feature for mobile video is iTunes integration, which allows for supersmooth content import. Any media you purchased through iTunes easily can be synced to your iPhone. Support for .m4v, .mov, and .mp4 formats allows other content to be moved onto the device fairly easily. I realize 8GB will only hold so many videos, but we can’t forget that this is a phone.

The last mobile video feature that pushes this device over the top is the YouTube channel. Yes, you can watch videos through the Safari browser, but only if they are in one of the supported formats—no Flash Video here! While this is a major flaw, Apple makes up for it by having a whole application devoted to YouTube videos. You really need to have a strong cell signal or be on a wireless network to enjoy the videos in a timely fashion, but I’ve rarely found myself unable to access the channel. As YouTube has made the switch to H.264 encoding for all of its videos, this allows you to see flying cats, flipping skateboarders, and flopping candidates in all their glory. Thanks to Apple, YouTube, and Google, I can now waste time (er, do video research) much more efficiently.

Samsung UpStage SPH-M620—Best for TV
As a Sprint Ambassador blogger, I received an UpStage phone to try for 6 months. Apart from some usability issues, I really enjoyed watching live TV on this mobile device. Sprint TV, in partnership with MobiTV, delivered some of the best traditional TV content on a mobile device. With just a few clicks I was watching live news, episodes of ABC’s Lost, and even serial web content. The amount of content was impressive, and they had split their offerings in to packages similar to the tiered levels of cable programming. As part of the Sprint Ambassador program, I had access to all the programming content free of charge, and even after enjoying the ability to watch live news and mobile episodic content, I don’t think I would pay an additional $15 a month for that privilege.

Where this device really shone was in delivery of live television programming. I could watch FOX News Live and then flip over to clips from favorite shows. Even with half a signal I could still get a good streaming signal and watch pretty clear content. This is one of the first times I could be in a waiting room, pull out a mobile device, and watch TV. There was limited access to full-length content, but the live channels had a nice assortment of programming covering entertainment, technology, and news.

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