With the launch of Flash 10.1 hitting mobile phones just as soon as their operating systems can handle it, there's a very good chance user will be getting a lot more video app love to look forward to. The trouble is, though, that just because the means to supply this medium has now arrived, it doesn't mean that current application developers have any idea how to use it.
Fortunately, both for the end user and the would-be video-involved app maker, help is at hand from leading cloud-based online video platform Brightcove. Fresh from its victory of supplying web video to the iPad, the company has released an SDK for Android to help developers overcome the Flash video hurdle as well as introduce a new mobile template for mobile phone browsers across all other Flash-using operating systems.
"When you're making a video-heavy app at the moment you start with a blank screen and you have to write everything on top of that," says SVP at Brightcove Jeff Whatcott.
"You need to write something to connect to the Brightcove site - or whatever other company serves your videos - then you need to retrieve the video, get the metadata you need - playlists, tags, titles, etc - and all of that from scratch before you even start on the new skin for your environment."
"It's a very high mountain to climb, so what this SDK offers is all of that pre-packed. So we're dropping developers right by the summit of the mountain leaving them to do the last bit - the bit that they're interested in - themselves".
This SDK is free but where Brightcove makes its money is in the subscriptions that its clients take out to have the videos hosted and served by them in the first place. The hope is that by making life easier with this pre-packed solution that there'll be more developers willing to write more video apps - better for users, and Brightcove's money making model as well, of course.
"Anything we can do to lower the bar will accelerate creation of these apps, as they've been hard to put together in the past. If someone had an idea on the subway, by the time they got off, after thinking about all the barriers they had to overcome, they were usually too depressed to start."
The question for our money though, is how many of these smaller, 'mom and pop' app developers are still at it now that much of this first generation of software will have been tried and, ultimately, not worked out for many of them? Is an SDK like this relevant if it's only EA and all sorts of other big publishers left standing? Thankfully, Whatcott sees more of a cyclical story that a tale of the app bubble bursting.
"There's a natural ebb and flow in developer imagination and participation. We may have had the gold rush years but a major economy has arisen out of that and it's here to stay."
For the non-Android solution, Brightcove's online template for Flash 10.1 will be of universal appeal and is designed for users to find access, playing and controlling the video we see on our mobile screens much easier. One of the issues for many mobile users is that screens are just too small to be watching videos through our web browsers at all.
"It's on a small screen, in a smaller box with tiny play buttons for many people," says Whatcott. "The new template will make them easier to interact with. There'll be larger buttons and the players will also work with swipe and resize gestures too in case the buttons are still too fiddly."
Of course, whenever anyone talks about Flash these days, the elephant in the room that is the Apple issue has to blow its trumpet at some point. As to be expected, Whatcott sees the benefits first hand of why some people might choose to use Adobe's standard over the younger HTML 5.
"It really depends how customers develop their sites. Flash is much a more highly evolved platform. It's good for analytics, advertisers and all the user interface capabilities are already in place."
"HTML 5 is currently where Flash was in 2004. There's no robust support for analytics and it's not as secure, so companies are less likely to use it for premium content like movies and TV shows. On the other hand, it's an open standard, so there's no special skills required to write it. It's also more efficient. Ultimately though, it's a business thing. Whether people use Flash or HTML 5, there's not difference to the end user."
Of course, Brightcove is interested in serving video to more than just mobile phones. We know that the company already provides for set-top box and TV platforms like Boxee and Yahoo Widgets. What we weren't aware of until Whatcott mentioned was that Brightcove is also in on the much talked about Google TV. So naturally, we grilled him for as much insider knowledge on how it might work and what it might look like as he was willing to discuss.
"Google TV is on the Android platform. Think of it like a really big iPad with the same kind of apps for iPhone but scaled up. It'll bring a new wave of Android apps that will work with both TV and mobile devices. They'll largely be content centric apps, such that the content can become part of the channel directory on your TV, but there'll be all sorts of other ones to play with as well."
Stay tuned for more tidbits on that one in the run up to Christmas.
In the mean time though, despite Brightcove's news, the Android world still waits for Froyo and it'll be a while, no doubt, until the developers work out the best ways to produce video-rich apps with the SDK. Let's hope we don't have to hang around until Decemeber for the first flush of them too.