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SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone 3G Finally Approved

Sling Media announced today that its SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone application is now available on Apple's App Store, having been approved for use on AT&T Wireless's 3G network last week.

The story behind this, and the coinciding of the final approval on the day that Mobile World Congress 2010 opens here in Barcelona, is just another intriguing step in the saga surrounding Sling's impact on the mobile and entertainment landscape. Readers who have received a copy of the 2010 Streaming Media Sourcebook may have read the "Great Land Grab" article, which chronicles—as a morality tale or microcosm of the larger media-on-mobile industry—Sling Media's SlingPlayer journey over the past two years.

From its start with the SlingBox consumer hardware appliance and eventual integration into new owner Echostar's satellite and cable set-top boxes, Sling continued to expand into an online streaming portal and software applications for those who may not want to purchase the company's place-shifting products.

Back in June, 2008, Sling unveiled a concept of the SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone, which would allow access to a user's SlingBox content and the Sling.com portal. This version, though, required some software modification to be able to play on the iPhone, since it was not officially sanctioned by Apple.

The company then worked for many months to bring the SlingPlayer Mobile product to iPhones, via Apple's new App Store and were finally granted approval in May 2009.

Initial approval, however was just for a Wi-Fi only version of SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone, despite the fact that there were other working 3G versions of the SlingPlayer Mobile application on a limited number of BlackBerry, Palm, and Windows Mobile devices.

Given the fact that all of these other SlingPlayer Mobile applications were available on the AT&T Wireless 3G network, and that multiple voice- or video-over-IP products for the iPhone appeared to be cordoned off for Wi-Fi only approval in 2009, developers and pundits alike began questioning whether the rejections were based on Apple's App Store criteria or whether AT&T Wireless was selectively rejecting iPhone 3G versions of applications that would cannibalize voice minutes or pay-per-view video revenues.

Little headway on approval for a 3G version of the SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone was made between May 2009 and this month, even after the Federal Communications Commission began exploring the question of Apple and AT&T's decision-making process for the App Store.

Early this month, however, AT&T Wireless put out a press release noting that an optimized 3G version of the SlingPlayer for iPhone would be available soon. Beyond just announcing that SlingPlayer Mobile on AT&T's 3G network had been deemed "acceptable" by AT&T, raising again the question of who makes the final decision for App Store inclusion, AT&T took a further step to make sure the FCC knew its intent.

"Just as we've worked with Sling Media in this instance," said Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, "we look forward to collaborating with other developers so that mobile customers can access a wider, more bandwidth-sensitive, and powerful range of applications in the future."

The terms "optimized" and "bandwidth-sensitive" were enough to continue the intrigue, as Sling announced a day later that it had done nothing to "optimize" the version that AT&T and Apple were set to approve.

"AT&T never discussed any specific requirements with us," said Sling Media's John Santoro in an interview with Ars Technica adding that "SlingPlayer Mobile has always contained code to adapt the stream quality to the given network conditions."

This raises the question as to whether the approved 3G-capable SlingPlayer Mobile is any different from the software first rejected by AT&T.

AT&T Wireless, via a spokesperson replied to the Ars interview by saying: "There are technical things a developer can do to ensure an app uses 3G network bandwidth efficiently. Since December 2009, we've been testing the SlingPlayer Mobile app and have now notified Sling Media and Apple that the optimized app can run on our 3G mobile broadband network."

The AT&T Wireless official press release, however, now says that Sling Media "originally developed its wireless app to make efficient use of 3G network bandwidth," acknowledging that the original version may have been acceptable by AT&T's technical standards.

Whether the sequencing and behind-the-scenes negotiating will ever come to light is uncertain. It appears, however, that Sing's canary-in-the-coal mine mission has yielded benefits for iPhone users in the United States, beyond just the SlingPlayer Mobile application.

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