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The Year in Review: Mobile Video
Europe continues to lead the way in mobile video usage and innovation. Here's a look at some of the new startups and developments in the market from 2008.
Tues., Dec. 23, by Tim Siglin
Flash is being rolled out on Nokia N85 and N95 series phones, and a few Windows Mobile devices promised full Flash Player 10 compatibility. Adobe’s Flash Lite can be used on older phones, both as a plug-in for mobile browsing and as a stand-alone application to modify elements of the handset’s user interface (UI).

With Silverlight, Microsoft promises the same basic technology capability, from web to desktop to mobile (eventually), so JavaFX is facing a stiff challenge in the multiscreen application and interactivity category, especially when it comes to rich media and video streaming. However, the one major benefit that Java has over Flash, Silverlight, and even Flash Lite is its installed userbase on many handsets. While Flash Lite is currently available on 500 million phones and is expected to be available on 1 billion by the end of 2009, Java is on at least twice as many phones and possibly five times as many handsets.

Floobs is currently focused on sports delivery and prides itself in using the Red5 open source Flash video server, which the company has customized for its purposes.

An Irish startup that recently raised $14 million (about £8 million) in a Series A funding round, Movidia uses its semiconductor technology to provide mobile-based video editing and postproduction capabilities. Geared toward user-generated content and mobile social networking, the company’s ISAAC microprocessor-based SoC is set to launch to the commercial market in early 2009.

Handset users can perform desktoplike in-clip editing of video clips on their devices, adding effects such as slow motion and super-resolution zoom. Because the product removes the need to add these effects on a desktop or laptop computer, the technology may first appeal in heavily video-oriented Asia. But with the release of APIs in the future, Movidia may also gain a foothold in Europe and the U.S. as video-camera capability and smartphone memory increases. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to see higher-quality (or at least highly edited) social network media content in the not-too-distant future.

A 2-year-old startup that recently closed a $9.5 million Series B investment led by Cisco, SoonR supports more than 600 handsets, including most of today’s smartphones. The company has both classic adaptation play (where a file is rendered in a format optimized for a specific device, ranging from Word and Excel documents to PDF and video files) and an “active storage layer” (providing continuous redundant data storage with real-time access, or cloud computing).

When it comes to social networking in Europe, buddy-finding and mapping are two key elements for a successful social networking play. Qiro, a social community service created in the Deutsche Telekom labs, recently had its seed funding covered to grow its mobile location services business. Funded by a group of VC and angel partners in Berlin, Qiro not only provides a Yellow Pages-style localization service but also adds buddy-finding services to its points-of-interest mapping.

Somewhat akin to Google Maps on the iPhone in the U.S., Qiro continuously tracks and displays its user’s current location, sharing the proximity of other friends who belong to the Qiro service and making use of street and user-generated images.

A similar service offered by Juicecaster, a U.S.-based company in the mobile video space, geotags video clips from a certain proximity around the user, showing videos shot and tagged within a particular location.

From Estonia comes a toolset that allows both remote administration and streamlined video journalism. The brainchild of founder and CEO Jouko Vierumäki, Fromdistance has been in business since 2004 and is owned partially by its key employees and Aura Capital.

While the typical usage of the administration tool is to provide a browser-based interface for device management—including device inventory and reporting; application management; end-user troubleshooting and support; and policy management on both smartphones and mobile laptops—Fromdistance can also be used by reporters and for promotional purposes to send video content back from the phone.

Initially designed as a way to detail the theft of a device—along with the use of an SMS message if an unauthorized user swaps out the device’s SIM card for one of his or her own—the reporting functionality records and sends media files using a one-click interface. For reporters who have access to a mobile-reporter server, video is automatically transcoded, transrated, resized to the publisher’s needs, and then transferred to the content management system.

The handset can be configured to send images and videos automatically—only the recording button needs to be pressed—or it can be set to wait for a story to be written or for still images to be captured before sending the video.

Government Intervention
Beyond the startups, government involvement is also helping in the mobile video area. This involvement comes in diverse forms spanning ICT Framework packages and the use of extra spectrum to enhance connectivity.

On the connectivity front, Switzerland has chosen to use some of its additional spectrum to level the playing field between rural and urban mobile broadband users. The GSMA, a global mobile industry trade body that hosts the annual 3GSM Mobile show in Barcelona, Spain, each year, recently applauded Switzerland’s decision to allocate part of the frequency spectrum that will be freed up by the switch to digital television to mobile broadband services.