Videonet has published the latest blog entry by David Price and myself
Our story so far: After beginning an experiment in cord-cutting, David received a rude awakening from his pay TV provider. This got us thinking about how to get around broadband data caps. Two approaches occurred to us right away.
The first is to make better use of available bandwidth by using improved codecs. The second is to postpone data cap charges with a hybrid broadcast solution. Both have their advantages and challenges…
- Steve Hawley
Although 2016 was generally a good year for technology, I do have a few bones to pick about Apple. Hence, my first annual 2016 Apple ‘What were they thinking?’ blog post.
My “Baker’s” Top Ten list:
1) New MacBook Pro: The Touch Bar, which is the signature feature of the higher-end models. It’s dim and difficult to see, even under lesser indoor room illumination; and there’s no way to adjust its brightness manually.
2) New MacBook Pro: No real-world connectivity except for WiFi, BlueTooth and two or four USB-C ports. Meaning that you need adapters for Ethernet, external display or projectors, and no SD memory card slot, which are useful (required) in Enterprise market,
3) New MacBook Pro: No Magsafe connector, so now, after a ten year hiatus, people can again bring their machines crashing to the floor when they trip over the power cord,
4) New MacBook Pro: Does not incorporate the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor. People buy this machine for a 4-5 year lifecycle, and part of that is to buy the latest possible processor. The only reason I can think of, for why Apple opted for a previous-generation processor, was to boost 2016 revenue for the MacBook Pro line,
5) New MacBook Pro: No optical (CD/DVD-R) drive. Even though these have been missing on the MacBook Pro for a few years, I’m not real happy about having to use an external DVD/CD drive to back up my machine onto physical media, which I still do every so often,
6) iPhone 7: No headphone jack, end of story. Hope that Apple keeps the 6s around for a while longer,
7) iOS: Apple conditions users to use the button in the upper right to go “back” – except for voicemail, where the UI in that position is for changing your voicemail greeting,
8) iOS: Why does Apple insist on hiding elements of the UI that are useful, like the Search box and the ‘Back’ arrow in the browser?
9) iOS: Users have to shift to the alternate keyboard for the @, which is only the most used character on the Internet. Really?
10) iOS: Apple ‘expires’ old versions of iOS too quickly, even when the new ones are known buggy. Yes, you can download older OS versions, but as soon as the installer program pings Apple, the installation process is halted.
And just like a “Baker’s Dozen,” where you get 13 for the price of 12, here’s the rest of my Baker’s Ten:
11) Software stability: iOS 10.2 broke several of my apps. iOS 10.2 also apparently shuts down some iPhone models when the battery level reaches 30%. iOS 9 was problematic too.
12) Technical support: Neither an AppleCare phone support rep nor any of the Genius Bar staff in my local Apple store could confirm whether a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter could be used to connect and migrate my software and content from my old Mac to the new one – and told me to use WiFi. I had to buy the Ethernet adapter and try – thankfully it worked fine.
I waited for a long time before buying a new MacBook Pro, hoping for better. But given the first five items in my list, I went ahead and bought a 2015 model instead, which still has at least the first three. The 2015 model is sufficient for my purposes, has fast solid state storage, the screen is beautiful, and it has the connectivity I need (with the exception of the optical drive)
After Steve Jobs returned to the company 20 years ago and Apple had its long series of successes with the iMac, iPod, and all the other iDevices, it hurts to think that the post-Jobs Apple has again lost its way.
Just as was the case pre-Jobs’ return, Apple again has many Mac models on the showroom floor, with little to differentiate many of them. Who remembers the Mac Performa, Quadra, Centris, LC, Macintosh II, and Classic, which were all available at the same time. Bewildering. Much like the current MacBook line-up. Too many models, and many of them don’t quite fit.
We all know about ‘Over the Top,’ where an online video provider circumvents or disintermediates a pay TV operator (while using the operator’s own network to deliver said video). Then there’s ‘TV Everywhere,’ in which pay TV content providers require users to associate themselves with their pay TV subscriptions or, no play.
Through the Middle
A third online video service model is where a pay TV operator enters into a relationship with an OTT provider or online aggregator and exposes the online service within its pay TV experience. In other words, not OTT or TVE, but “through the middle,” or “TTM.”
At first, it sounds like a gimmick – some kind of desperation move by the pay TV provider to give frustrated subscribers one more reason not to cut the cord. But let’s look a little further…
TTM: A little background
In March 2014, the Danish broadband provider Waoo! introduced Netflix from within its pay TV user interface, through the middle. Here’s a demo video (in Danish).
This is enabled through the integration of software from Netflix, Nordija and Airties, which are Waoo!’s TV middleware and set-top box suppliers, respectively.
DISH embraced TTM too
In December 2014, DISH Network introduced Netflix integration as well. DISH’s implementation is different from Waoo!’s. While Waoo! dedicated a button to Netflix in its main menu, DISH placed Netflix within the electronic program guide, which made Netflix “just another channel.”
So now, I can access Netflix using the same method of access as DISH uses for video on demand.
TTM’s not a gimmick
Again, I thought “it’s a gimmick.” Until I decided to try it. If you own a streaming video player, you’ve probably been through a drill that goes something like this:
- Turn on the TV set (using either the pay TV STB remote or the TV set’s own remote)
- Locate the streaming video player’s remote, press the button to activate it
- Locate your TV set’s remote, and change the input from your pay TV set-top box, to the streaming video player
- Navigate the video player’s menus to the Netflix application, and activate the app
- Navigate the Netflix thumbnails, using up/down/right/left on the streaming player’s remote, or locate the search field and use the text search character matrix.
- Watch videos on Netflix
- Grab the TV’s remote and switch the input back to your pay TV set-top box
- (…At which point, we’ve used at least two different user interfaces – that of your streaming player and Netflix.’ Plus, perhaps, the TV set’s own UI – and as many as three different remote controls)
- (…At which point, my wife asks me to call someone for technical support – but who?)
Compare this classic early-adopter experience with DISH’s TTM experience
- Turn on the TV, using the DISH remote
- Bring up the EPG and navigate to Channel 370
- Press the center button to enter Netflix.
- The Netflix user experience takes over (DISH can’t be held responsible for Netflix’ unusable search and recommendation capabilities)
- Hit Cancel, Cancel, Cancel… to back out of Netflix and return to DISH
- (…at which point we used one remote control and two UIs: that of DISH and that of Netflix)
The first time you access Netflix via the DISH EPG, you must enter your Netflix ID and passcode. Any subsequent use of Netflix goes right from the EPG to Netflix, with no login needed.
Has someone already decided that TTM is too good to be true?
I was initially motivated to write this article because Zatz Not Funny published a report that the YouTube and Amazon apps were being removed from the TiVo Series 2 and Series 3 DVRs, as of April 15. Sure enough, TiVo confirms this. Because the apps reside on the TiVo box, this is really another version of Through the Middle.
I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Amazon and YouTube were starting to get choosy about their distribution channels – and that TTM might just be a fleeting phenomenon as different content providers contend against one another to be the one on top. Or as my wife’s dad used to say: “If it’s any good, they’ll stop making it!”
As it turns out, the moves by Amazon and YouTube are simply because the TiVo 2- and 3-Series are old, and the app developers made the choice not to support them anymore. In fact, video apps from Amazon, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vudu (and others) are all key selling points for TiVo’s current Roamio DVR, and surely these video providers must appreciate having access to TiVo’s subscribers.
Not long ago, an industry friend of mine told me that Netflix had been in a pay TV operator’s EPG, but had pulled out. But the reason that Netflix and the pay TV provider went their separate ways was because Netflix wanted more control over the user experience.
So, these weren’t cases of competitive wrangling or channel conflict at all. One was about discontinuing support for old devices, and the other was about a content provider trying to maintain its look and feel across any device environment.
TTM is BoBW
Pay TV operators that integrate their services with TiVo can choose whether or not to expose TiVo’s OTT apps through the middle, but that’s also another story. In those cases, the pay TV operator is calling the shots, which brings us full circle back to the debate as to whether OTT is a threat or an opportunity for operators.
In the end, I view ‘Through the Middle’ is BoBW (the Best of Both Worlds) as a consumer retention tool for pay TV. But I think it’s more because of the added convenience, and it’s a tacit admission by pay TV operators that OTT can be a friend and isn’t a threat.
[ Side note: This topic takes us into a whole 'nother discussion about where the pay TV provider's user experience leaves off, and where the OTT (TTM) provider's UEx takes over. I promise an article about this soon. ]
Apple announced a new MacBook computer this week, during a press event that also provided the release date and pricing details for the upcoming Apple Watch. Everyone seemed to agree that the MacBook is a beautiful thing.
But why this machine?
I wish I could be more delicate, but the MacBook impresses me as being a totally unnecessary product. It might be a good ‘casual user’ machine: sufficient for accessing the Web, watching (cat) videos and for short emails perhaps? But so is the iPad. It might be a good “Office” machine: good for making presentations, writing, working on budgets. But so is the MacBook Air, which is less expensive and much more powerful. Instead, Apple seems to have aimed it at the less expensive Chromebook Pixel.
This was a major lost opportunity for Apple. It could have been the one form-factor that Apple is missing – the one that would have addressed the three things that the Microsoft Surface has over the iPad. The MacBook could have had a full computer operating system (as opposed to iOS), the ability to remove the keyboard portion so it could function as a tablet, and a port for file transfer and peripherals. These could have made the MacBook an instant hit. Instead, it has a mobile processor and people are already complaining about the keyboard.
I also immediately imagined a folder-like leather cover that would go behind the screen portion and under the keyboard portion. With the screen removed, the part of the cover that went behind the screen would simply fold down over the keyboard to protect it.
My first impression of the Apple Watch is that its not something that was designed for the ages. Luxury watches are designed as heirlooms and have century-long life expectancies, not 18-months.
Apple could still pull off a coup for $10,000-to-$17,000 Apple Watch Edition buyers if its Applecare extended warranty were to consist of replacing the electronics every couple of years. That would also reinforce the notion of Apple as a luxury brand. Or, instead of doing it under Applecare, just do it for free. The electronics probably cost less than $100 under mass production – the BOM (bill of materials) cost is probably much lower than a smartphone. iPhone 5S’ BOM was $199. It would be a pretty small percentage of the price.
But are they jewelry?
If Apple intended the new MacBook to be “jewelry,” it’s too big for a lady to carry in her pocketbook. And as for the Apple Watch. I imagine that it will sell, but not in Version 1.0. Too big. One of the appeals of the FitBit is its size and light weight. Once Apple manages to skinny down the electronics, then yes maybe.
As the 2015 CES conference fades (already!) in the industry’s rear view mirror, it’s worth recognizing how much occurs during CES week, but not at CES itself. Apple famously casts its long shadow each year, since Apple products are surrounded by a large halo of aftermarket offerings, but Apple (the company) had no overt presence in Las Vegas that week. But another company of similar stature does: AT&T, which begins its annual Developer Summit with a Hackathon during the weekend prior and concludes it with a conference, consisting of a keynote and breakout sessions on the Monday just prior to the CES opening day.
“Mobile is eating the world!”
The 2015 AT&T Developer Summit, in its ninth year, had 4,000 developers in attendance. For the Hackathon, the attendees broke up into groups to create apps that followed the decidedly “mobile” themes of the event: mobile apps, the ‘Internet of Things’ (including smart homes and the Connected Car), WebRTC, atop the software-defined network (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). SDN and NFV are about defining the resources you want in your applications, and making sure that the network can provide them on demand.
The conference keynote was opened by AT&T Mobile and Business Solutions President and CEO Ralph de la Vega, who exclaimed that “Mobile is eating the world!” (riffing on the famous 2011 “Software is eating the world” article, about how old-school hardware companies like HP are turning toward software to help ensure their futures). Mr. de la Vega then explained how the combination of software, mobility, the cloud and security have already disrupted many industries, changing the way consumers live and work by creating ecosystems that connect secure end points to a secure VPN. Uber is the obvious example.
If it’s not networked, it’s dumb
In an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) panel later in the keynote session, Glenn Lurie, now CEO of AT&T Mobility, elaborated that “Any device that’s connected is smart, and if it’s not connected, it’s dumb,” and that AT&T’s goal in the IoT space is to connect to any kind of device or customer, whether it’s an individual or a city; a network of street lights, or a consumer’s automobile or smart watch. With that context in mind, Mr Lurie’s panel had a wide-ranging discussion.
Panelist Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm, unsurprisingly believes that a fundamental quality of IoT will be mobility. Benedict Evans of the investment firm Andreessen Horowitz believes that IoT will be a bigger opportunity than mobility, the PC, and software. Cisco’s Chief Technology and Strategy Officer, Padmasree Warrior, said that now that it is in place, is commerce-enabled and is social, IoT is the next logical step in the evolution of the Internet. Alex Hawkinson, CEO of SmartThings, a ‘smart home’ technology company, added that the key to IoT is to make devices and use-cases simple, accessible, easy to use, and to be sufficiently open to enable walled gardens that provide opportunities for innovation.
The panelists agreed that there is no single unified trend in IoT because it’s so diverse. The most interesting things will happen at the edges of networks, but the availability of connectivity and bandwidth will limit how much ongoing communications will take place, and therefore, how much of the experience will actually need to be available within a given device if the connection can’t be guaranteed. There must be a balance between them to best leverage both. Devices will become so cheap and so useful that they will be everywhere, but they will need software and networks to enable the use-cases.
Smart Homes and IoT are the next frontiers
A September 2014 Goldman Sachs report quotes the Consumer Electronics Association as saying that only 10% of new homes current have home automation. To drive adoption, the panelists said that greater awareness must be created that home solutions exist in the first place. Another driver will be a combination of openness and a consolidation of standards, because consumers will not want to have to decide which walled garden they want to be a part of. It’s up to the developer community to enable use cases regardless of device and network. [ My comment: in the adjacent Connected Car space, some car companies are already planning to enable consumers to bring either Android or iOS into the car, and not force that choice on the consumer. ]
Security was another area of discussion. Last September, a Hewlett-Packard report said that 70% of IoT devices lack security. In order to accommodate security, several things will need to change. First, security must become appropriate to the use-case, and less of a ‘point product.’ For example, DRM for video and data security for health care applications are very different. Yet, an AT&T consumer might have the need for both within the same account relationship. Also, there is already a simultaneous need for security and privacy: data is collected about a device user, but it must be kept anonymous – often for regulatory reasons. In all, the Internet will be called upon to enable an increasingly diverse and personalized experience. There will be more end-points, so the architectures of networked applications and devices will have to accommodate that. There must be distributed intelligence that functions in realtime and, from moment to moment, recognizes that an end user’s device or data may be vulnerable to attack, and decides when to implement security from the cloud and when to invoke it local to a device.
“Hundreds of electric motors”
Andreessen’s Evans noted that “you have hundreds of electric motors in your home, but you didn’t set out to buy these electric motors. Instead, you bought refrigerators and mixers and applienaces and all of them have use-cases. So developers need to respect these accepted use-cases.” Ms. Warrior from Cisco elaborated, saying: “There is a lot of value in connected IoT devices and developers must expose that value. They must make them more efficient, which is where analytics comes in.”
Another issue is one of ‘certification.’ Many devices will be retrofitted into connected applications that have never been connected before. Who will use the technologies? Who will enable them? Are they capable and qualified for use? Developers must ask themselves: “how will we make it easy for applications to happen, and how do we make them easy to use?”
This discussion seemed rather remote from AT&T, but the opposite is true, since AT&T already offers a home security and home control service (AT&T Digital Life) and is trying to drive adoption against entrenched competition like ADT. In addition to AT&T’s strategic initiatives into the Connected Car, where AT&T offers a global automotive telematics platform in partnership with in-country communications carriers in virtually every market where automobiles are sold. AT&T’s NetBond platform provides APIs that enable developers and enterprises to create virtualized applications that integrate AT&T’s network with cloud partners that include SoftLayer, CSC, Amazon Web Services, VMWare, IBM and Microsoft Azure.
But this was a Hackathon – what happened?
Developers participating in the Hackathon had 48 hours to put together apps using the AT&T network platforms and APIs. Many teams formed, from which 20 teams were selected for further evaluation by AT&T, which eventually resulted in three finalists. The winning team won $25,000, and was presented with a check on the spot.
Anti-Snoozer, the winning app, utilized AT&T’s Drive APIs, a camera, and motion-sensing to monitor the driver’s position and the dilation of the driver’s pupils to sound an alarm to awaken a drowsy driver (presumably, for long enough to find a place to pull over or stay).
The other apps both used Web RTC to establish a realtime video conference between a user and a business via Web sites, using AT&T Web RTC APIs. “Sitter” is for care-givers in the home. It enables a parent to advertise for care givers. The applicant can record a personal video interview for the parent via a Web site. When the selected sitter gets to the home, the app connects to AT&T Digital Life, to enable or block access to rooms in the house, as enabled by the parent. “Host Magic” was for a home owner renting a property. Potential renters sign up, and the property owner receives an email notification that there is an applicant waiting. Similar to ‘Sitter,” the property owner can interview the applicant and grant access only to desired parts of the property.
The meaning of it all
Telcos will win the long-term battle of communications, because they place the network itself at the center of their business, not the delivery of paid content – as cable companies do. In other words, AT&T’s product is its network, and it is AT&T’s strategic interest to rally as many developers around it as possible. Just as Apple began doing in 1990 with its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and Microsoft with its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in 1992.
Google announced that it is ending the experimental phase of Google Glass, by ending its beta program and transitioning it into a different business unit.
In my opinion, the primary purpose of Glass has been to test the social boundaries of acceptable advertising practices. You have to give Google credit for convincing ‘early adopters’ that the Glass beta was cool enough to pay for. This level of uncritical goodwill toward Google won’t last forever.
Virtually all of Google’s technologies are in service of their advertising model. With that in mind, always make sure you know what you’re opting in to before you buy. Ask anyone who has ever downloaded an app from Google Play and has had to accept the terms (flashlight apps with access to your location, etc).
Remember that song from the ’80s: She Blinded Me With Science. Just sayin’…
DISH Network used the 2015 CES conference both as a review of recent announcements and as a launch pad for the new; in three areas: new content offerings, new equipment, and a new user experience. Some of it was evolutionary, and some of it pace-setting. Here’s a recap of my tour of DISH at CES.
Online video to the TV
First there were a number of content announcements. Because it was announced just before the pending holiday break, many had missed DISH’s December 17 announcement that Netflix has been integrated into the DISH Hopper home media gateway as a TV app; one of the first US pay TV operators to do so. DISH also announced a Vevo music video TV app.
TV video online
DISH’s biggest CES news was its new Sling TV service, which will be available later this year. Sling TV is a stand-alone online TV service designed expressly for Millennials, the 18-35 audience that the pay TV industry will increasingly be depending upon to sustain the business as today’s pay TV households age and gradually disengage from premium programming. No traditional satellite TV subscription required.
Rather than being cord-cutters, Millennials tend to be “cord-nevers” who feel that they can get all the video programming they need from other sources without subscribing to pay TV in the first place. Others of that demographic ‘hitch-hike’ on their family’s pay TV plan, despite having households of their own. So to characterize Millennials as “cord-cutters” isn’t fully accurate. DISH hopes to attract this demographic where others have failed.
DISH is carrying forward the traditional multi-tiered pay TV content model into this online offering, with a bit of an a-la-carte twist. The $20/month base offering consists of programming from The Walt Disney Company (ESPN and ABC), Turner (CNN, Cartoon Network and TBS) and Scripps Networks Interactive (The Food Channel, HGTV, and the Travel Channel). Announced add-on packs include a Kids Extra (Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV and Duck TV) and a News & Info Extra (HLN, Cooking Channel, DIY and Bloomberg), for $5/month each.
Missing are DVR functionality and regionally-tailored live sports, local programming, and linear programming from TV networks other than ABC and ESPN. It isn’t perfect but it’s a promising start that is gated by content rights, not by technology.
This offering was just a matter of time in coming. Last year, DISH began to offer an international TV programming service online, called DISH World. DISH officials at CES confirmed that DISH World was essentially the Beta for Sling TV. DISH acquired online video technology pioneer Move Networks several years ago, and uses the Move software in both services.
DISH announced a 4K version of the Joey client set-top box, which later received an Editors Choice award from Reviewed.com, a USA Today division that was an official media partner with the Consumer Electronics Association, the host of CES. In picture-in-picture mode, the 4K Joey delivers two simultaneous HD-quality pictures. For DISH customers that don’t have a 4K TV, the existing Joey remains available.
New user experience
DISH was also demonstrating a new TV user interface for the Hopper, which includes a new Home screen, a Mini-guide, Favorites, and Recommendations (using TiVo’s Digitalsmiths platform) . Users will be able to see what’s ‘On Now,’ ‘On Later,’ and recommended content. Search will be across all TV content, plus VEVO. DISH is also adding a Netflix-like “choose uer profile” interface, first to the DISH Anywhere (available as a mobile app or via browser), and later, to the Hopper itself.
Another part of the new user experience is a new remote control for the Hopper with Sling home media gateway. In addition to having buttons, there’s a track pad and speech recognition. Touch and speech have become part of the autonomic nervous system of smartphone users, and DISH acknowledges that reality. The speech recognition is from Rovi’s Veveo subsidiary, with a back-end from Nuance.
DISH will also be supporting high-quality whole-home music via the Hopper and the Joey, and have access to content from IHeartRadio, TuneIn and Pandora, as well as their own music libraries via their home networks. DISH will be pushing the enabling software to the Hopper “sometime this summer.” An integration with Sonos wireless home music systems is also coming later this year.
If you want to watch your recording of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, you have to scroll down to the “T”s for “The.” Not the “A”s for “Adventures,” as I highlighted with the yellow box. It’s tedious to scroll all the way down to the “Ts” to watch something that starts with an “A.” Why not sequence by the first significant word in the title?
Obligatory miscellaneous distraction
In the middle of my booth tour, an impatient late-middle-aged ‘gentleman’ inserted himself between us, blurting out “Fox News! Fox News!,” then walking away mumbling about politics; apparently expecting the DISH executive to resolve the DISH-Fox carriage dispute that began on December 20, right then and there. It would take another week for that to happen.
If I had any single take-away from all of this, it’s that DISH has a clear view toward the future. The company realizes that it can’t bend new consumers to the old ways of pay TV, and instead, is taking steps to meet these consumers more on their own terms. They also realize that today’s mobile consumers aren’t going to be tied to any single access network, given the availability of LTE and wireline broadband (to say nothing of DISH’s multiple wireless spectrum acquisitions in recent years, and DISH said nothing).
Secondarily, Sling TV reinforces my existing belief that “online TV” will probably look a lot like “regular pay TV” as it matures. The content sources may be different – and multiple – but the entire bill might come to resemble what today’s consumers pay for DISH Network, Comcast or AT&T U-verse. Start with the base $20 for Sling TV, and $5/each for the add-on packs. Then add Netflix, Hulu, direct-to-consumer services from HBO and CBS, plus live TV (however that may happen, given what happened with Aereo), and it all adds up from the consumer perspective. We seem to be headed toward a world that embraces both bundling and a-la-carte.
What’s wrong with this picture is that consumers have to deal with a multitude of user experiences, instead of just one. Someone will eventually succeed in creating single user experience across all pay and online sources. It has to be someone that’s separate from the vested interests of each individual content and service provider. There are a number of third party TV Remote Control apps, but none of them quite nail it.
Competition is coming
It will be interesting to see how well DISH fares against emerging competition from Sony, HBO, CBS, DirecTV (especially if the AT&T acquisition goes through), and Verizon, which shrugged off DISH’s Sling TV announcement, despite that it shut down Redbox Instant last year.
My Bottom line
DISH has taken the old adage of retail to heart: location, location, location, while taking away any excuses not to take services from them. I think DISH is more pre-disposed to a world view of ‘virtual subscribers’ because satellite operators don’t have a direct physical connection (over a wire) with them.
At the time of announcement this week, the only two major devices not supported by Sling TV were Apple TV and the Chromecast. If that’s not enough, consumers can opt for the full pay TV experience and the Hopper’s Slingbox technology, to can get the content that online video offerings lack. Maybe that’s DISH’s real strategy: to use Sling TV as the teaser to get Millennials on to the full Hopper-based pay TV offering.
I also look forward to trying out the new user experience and remote control when they become available.
The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas sets the stage for each new year, and the 2015 edition was no exception. Once largely about home audio, TVs, and car stereo, CES has evolved into a must-attend event for every stakeholder in the digital content value chain; from content creation to the point of consumption and every stage in between. Hence, most of the TV service delivery infrastructure players either had booths on the trade show floor, had suites in the nearby hotels, or did both; and most pay TV operators were there as well.
It must be a huge challenge for the Consumer Electronics Association to select winners of the CES Innovation Awards each year, and being ‘just one guy,’ I won’t even pretend to emulate this task. But I found three items during CES to be especially noteworthy – and taken together, emblematic of the larger trend of platform and service virtualization.
Of great significance is DISH Network‘s continuing evolution as an alternative kind of ‘TV Everywhere’ provider. By launching Sling TV, DISH has both elevated the expectations of what online TV should be, and while it isn’t perfect, has deliberately moved to address the demographic that the pay TV industry is the most concerned about losing: millennials. In my opinion, DISH has been the most forward-thinking of the US pay TV operators in the area of online TV. DISH also announced a new user experience, a track-pad-based TV remote control with speech recognition and a new 4K Joey client set-top box for its Hopper with Sling home media center. DISH’s sibling company EchoStar used CES for the US launch of a new home security and home control offering called SAGE, which EchoStar also demonstrated a few months back at IBC.
Also noteworthy was cable operator Charter Communications‘ new WorldBox set-top box, Spectrum EPG and user experience. Unlike the direction being taken by other Tier-1 cable operators, and in particular with the RDK, where the adopters must have RDK-specific set-top boxes and must upgrade their networks to all-IP distribution in order to realize the full potential, Charter has partnered with Cisco and Active Video Networks to introduce an experience that can be deployed to decade-old set-top boxes as well as new IP video-capable ones. Yet, at the same time, it’s a multiscreen solution. Further details are in my article for CED Magazine.
But to me, the highlight of CES wasn’t at CES itself, but rather, was AT&T’s 2015 Developer Summit and Hackathon at the nearby Palms Resort in Las Vegas. While most pay TV operators advance their features in carefully controlled increments, AT&T offers APIs that allow it to essentially open-source its entire network, and has invited developers of all kinds to play in their sandbox. By doing so, AT&T is providing keys to the kingdom to any developer that helps drive traffic over the AT&T network. While other pay TV operators are taking their first steps into home security and home control, AT&T has not only opened AT&T Digital Life (not to mention its AT&T U-verse pay TV platform) to third party developers, but enables development for mobility, connected vehicles, wearables, and the industrial ‘Internet of Things.’ And a host of partnered developers were there in support.
DISH, AT&T and Charter are each “coloring outside the lines” of conventional wisdom, and I’ll be writing more about each of them in the coming week.
I was a fairly late smartphone adopter – I didn’t have my first one until 2012, and only because I inherited it from another family member. It was the replacement for a lost phone, until the lost one turned up. So I decommissioned my 2007-vintage Nokia XpressMusic 5310 and popped my SIM and MicroSD cards into my new Samsung Exhibit II 4G. T-Mobile is my carrier. Wow! The Future!
But then reality set in. The Android experience did not meet my basic expectations. I found the user interface for basic phone calling to be awkward – dialing with one hand is difficult. Even though I would set the screen to time-out after 10 minutes, it would go dark in 10 seconds, so the act of deleting a voicemail meant that I would have to re-awaken the phone with the power button. The controls for apps were different for each app – no consistency. Often, the phone couldn’t pick up a network provider, even in London where six of them would be in range at any given moment.
Apps are unstable: Firefox could never get past two pages before crashing. Perhaps this instability has to do with poor memory management. One memory management app allows the user to quit all of the processes running in RAM, but within a few minutes they would always reactivate and sneak back in. On the left is a screenshot of this app after clearing 7 apps from RAM. The screenshot on the right shows the same app after clearing ram again six minutes later. This even happened with apps that I thought I had un-installed.
But above all, my greatest concerns went to security and privacy. Android’s ‘Privacy’ settings include ‘Back up my data’ and ‘automatic restore.’ That’s all. Under ‘Location and Security,’ there’s an option to ‘Install encrypted certificates from USB storage.’ Another is to ‘Add or remove device administrators.’ Wow, what an invitation – anyone could pick up my phone when I wasn’t looking and install a mole! Stop and think about this for a minute. The level of access should be a concern to anyone – especially corporate users concerned with data security.
Then there’s the level of access that’s available to software developers. Let’s look at a popular app whose purpose is to use the LEDs of the camera’s flash as a torch to illuminate your path. In reviewing the permissions associated with this app, it’s hard to believe that a flashlight is its true purpose. This app can access your storage, report your location, read the status of your phone calls, and has full access to the Internet. Really? A flashlight? And no way to disable this. The last item in the permissions list notes that it can control the hardware as a flashlight.
By contrast, Apple does not grant app developers access to phone or log functionality. Also, Apple provides system-wide settings for privacy, and both system-wide and app-specific settings to enable or disable location-awareness. in iOS, users can also enable a setting that shows them that an app has reported your location and when. Users can also disable location-based iADs (Apple’s mobile advertising platform).
Android’s location-awareness can be controlled system-wide but not app by app. If you want to grant access to Yelp or Urbanspoon but not to your flashlight, you’re out of luck. I don’t know whether later releases of Android have addressed this because my phone has been dead-ended. I can’t update the OS past Android v2.3.6 (Gingerbread), so I’ll never know (unless I look at the specifications of later releases, but what consumer will do that?).
In the end, privacy was the thing that ultimately won me away from Android, and even kids steeped in these new technologies agree with my decision. A few months into my smartphone, I reached a point where I stopped downloading apps for which I couldn’t control my level of privacy. Soon I realized that this meant I had to stop downloading nearly all apps. For some time afterward, I remained hooked on accessing the Web while mobile, but ultimately I said to myself: “What’s the point when my phone always crashes and I’m always looking over my shoulder?” My phone is a necessity. The rest is not.
And yes, we’re bashing Android, but this article doesn’t do the bashing justice. Juniper Networks estimated that 276,259 apps presented security issues, up 614% from 2012. Apple security isn’t perfect either: at the 2013 Black Hat conference, Georgia Tech researchers showed how malware could be injected into Apple iOS devices via the power connector. But this is nothing compared to kinds of hacks being publicized for Connected Cars. The University of Washington and UC San Diego conducted tests on several connected vehicles and were able to access and disable a vehicle’s controls via the car’s electronic tire-inflation sensor.
There’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there right now that Android is the winning mobile device operating system wars, and Apple’s influence in that market space is waning. This is reflected in the declining market share numbers for Apple in both the smartphone and tablet categories. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. A lot of people out there have opted for Android, been disappointed, and gone to (or back to) iOS. IPhone loyalty is higher also.
For now, I’m back to a Nokia XpressMusic 5310, which a nice gentleman in Shenzhen can sell to you on eBay, unlocked, for about $70. Later I’ll be one of those going to the iPhone, once the next generation is available. [ ...once again, dodging rotten tomatoes from those accusing me of being an Apple fanboy... ]
Ahhh, the Future!
[ Revised August 26: Another data point that acts to reaffirm my decision to leave Android is that there’s conjecture Google is devising a new kind of advertising measurement based on the number of gazes to ads viewed via Google Glass. A sort of “ad impressions” metric on steroids. I know this has nothing to do with my afore-referenced phone, but I don’t have to like it either. ]
We all know by now that Google is up to something, perhaps big, with the launch of its Chromecast dongle-style screen-sharing device, but there is also a lot of confusion around the device capabilities, Google’s strategy and whether this is a truly disruptive device.
To find out more about the Chromcast strategy, Videonet‘s Justin Lebbon spoke with two digital entertainment industry experts, Analyst Steve Hawley and Consultant Mark Donnigan, who works with Dune HD on their set-top box business. Read the article on Videonet!