Mobile TV looking for reasons to exist

Pointcast logoI feel sorry for the folks at the Open Mobile Video Coalition. Their marching orders are to come up with something really cool that uses some of TV broadcasters’ spectrum. As I wrote while discussing its possibly pay-TV cousin Dyle, the side-effect is to make that spectrum appear more valuable when the FCC and wireless internet companies want to buy it back. What the OMVC has failed to create is a need for mobile video, or a compelling case that the public wants to buy specialized devices for watching it.

Maybe someone has heard this lament, because the OMVC released a report yesterday detailing the non-real time applications for its technology. (The PDF of the report is available here; the news release PDF about the report is here.) So what else can mobile TV do? Collect video clips to be stored on the device’s memory, collect software updates, and act as an emergency alert notifier.

“Clipcasting” video for later viewing is almost an acknowledgement of one of my problems with mobile TV: You only need it when you’re moving, but TV reception is always poor in subways and often bad in trains and buses. If that’s a problem, then a solution is to watch stored video. But nowadays, if you want video podcasts or TV programs, there are lots of ways to add to your phone. OMVC’s embrace of video push technology reminds me a lot of PointCast, one of the first internet fads. If your memory stretches back to 1998 or so, you’ll remember how that turned out.

Software updates would be great for any standalone mobile TV viewer, but no one’s going to be interested in a standalone mobile TV viewer. Mobile TV will work only if it’s available on the smartphone that’s already in your pocket. But if it’s a smartphone, then you’re getting updates to all of its apps over the internet, so you won’t need TV-based updates.

The emergency beacon is the best use listed in this set of non-real time uses of mobile TV, but really we’re talking mostly about a real-time signal. As the OMVC report concludes, “Mobile TV played a key role in the safety of millions of people during last year’s Japan earthquakes, with virtually every cell phone in Japan serving as a Mobile TV warning device seconds before the earthquake reached heavily populated areas.” Except most of that functionality could be accomplished adding an inexpensive radio chip to cell phones.

A big reason I complain about this is that I love mobile portable TV. About 30 years ago, I hauled around a 5-inch screen embedded in a suitcase of electronics (including multiple C batteries) that was larger and heavier than any laptop I’ve ever used. As technology progressed, I upgraded to a Sony Watchman, which had a smaller screen but could be held in one hand. Both of these TVs made great friends for me when I’d bring them to sporting events to watch replays, and they were useful for picnics, other occasional outdoor activities, and whenever the electricity went out. Even then, I never tried to watch while in a moving vehicle. These days, my portable is a rechargeable 7-inch RCA model. As long as I hold still as I watch, it should satisfy my portable TV needs for years to come. Sorry OMVC, but you’re still pitching a solution in search of a problem.