Category: telecommunications

HTML5 DRM is Here

Netflix-logoBack in October I wrote a guest post on VentureBeat that argued in favor of an HTML5 DRM solution, something that will unlock premium video from the device and allow us to watch all the likes of Game of Thrones anytime, anyplace online. Well, that day may finally be upon us. Netflix has been working to make HTML5 DRM a reality and has today announced HTML5 playback support for Samsung ARM Chromebooks. This is big.

From the Netflix blog:

“Over the last year, we’ve been collaborating with other industry leaders on three W3C initiatives which are positioned to solve this problem of playing premium video content directly in the browser without the need for browser plugins such as Silverlight. We call these, collectively, the “HTML5 Premium Video Extensions”.

You can read the post for detailed descriptions of what these extensions are, but here is a summary:

Media Source Extensions (MSE): Enables Netflix to serve content from the best content delivery network at the time, include failover, and manipulate how content is streamed based on available bandwidth. In English it means serving a video stream the most optimal way to ensure its fast and consistent.

Encrypted Media Extensions (EME): Here’s where it gets interesting. This extension enables Netflix to “control playback of protected content”, enabling shows that studios were afraid to stream on the web with Flash or Silverlight (dead and dying respectively) to now be distributed on the web and not only in native apps. The most interesting aspect here is that the extensions specification specifies “how the DRM license challenge/response is handled, both in ways that are independent of any particular DRM” meaning support for a variety of DRM systems in the browser, not locked to any one provider.

Web Cryptography API (WebCrypto): This is the layer that makes sure data travelling back/forth between the browser and Netflix’s servers stays protected and secure. Netflix notes, “this is required to protect user data from inspection and tampering, and allows us to provide our subscription video service on the web.”.

Taken as the sum of their parts it means:  Serving video effectively, respecting digital rights required/enforced by studios, and maintaining security in transmission.

What it all comes down to: We can soon look forward to watching the shows we know and love; premium content like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and blockbuster movies through any web browser. No more being tied to a device that has downloaded plugins or apps. It’s ironic to say that the advent of a system that restricts playback based on rights is enabling content freedom but in my view that is the case. Only the truly delusional think that HBO, AMC, and Hollywood studios are going to hand over the content to be shared without any economic benefit (like requiring a subscription or download payment). If they did they’d go out of business fast.

To date, in order to distribute their content along with associated rules on playback, sharing, etc. networks and studios needed native mobile apps on phones and tablets. As TechCrunch correctly points out,

“Netflix was able to work with Google to get its videos working on those Chromebooks, thanks to a proprietary Netflix-developed PPAPI (Pepper Plugin API) plug-in which takes the place of the WebCrypto extension. But once WebCrypto is available through the Chrome browser, Netflix should be able to extend its support of HTML5 to Windows and Mac PCs without the need for Silverlight.”

Once WebCrypto is available through the Chrome browser…that’s the key. Once this API is baked into Chrome, which is in Google’s best interest, it will get baked into competing browsers and usher in the reality of premium content distributed on the web. We’re not there yet but its closer than ever and like I said in that VentureBeat post, it’s inevitable.

Apple Opens the Door for Google

The tech world is a buzz with the news that Apple has effectively shut out any technology that it deems is not native to it’s platform; most notably sticking it to Adobe only 4 days before the release of Flash CS5 including the much touted ability to render Flash to the iPhone. Here’s the iPhone 4.0 SDK Terms of Service change that has caused the stir:

3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

Wow. This basically says that if developers want to build apps for the iPhone then they need to use technology that Apple has approved and in a manner that Apple requires. The result has been a growing developer backlash against Apple for essentially becoming the tyrant it so famously accused Microsoft of being in the 1984 commercial. It’s a secret no more that this isn’t about open standards or performance concerns, it’s about money and market share. Business is business after all.

At first look the loser here is Adobe, but this also has a massive effect on companies like Unity3D, the amazing platform for creating 3D on mobile, and Appcelerator’s Titanium which was to finally helps us develop once and deploy to all devices. So where do they turn now? Google.

Apple is the undisputed king on the touch mobile world, but Google is catching up and making the right moves. Google doesn’t want to sell you a millions phones. They want Samsung, LG, Motorola, HTC and others to sell you millions of phones running Android, Google’s operating system with the growing number of Android apps. Just like Microsoft owning the market as a result of HP, Dell, Acer and other manufacturing Windows-based PCs, Google is going after the market the same way. Apple by contrast is following the same plan it did with Macs, the difference being this time around they currently lead the market.

Where Apple’s platform is closed and controlled (arguably for good reason), Google’s Android is all about being open….and Google is going to support Flash. Think about that. An open development environment and the ability to develop rich, applications you can download from the web and not have to go through a Store.

Here’s the perfect storm that might be coming Apple’s way, and make it plausible that soccer moms might dump their iPhone:

1. Beautiful Android-based devices hit the market rivaling the iPhone. Likelyhood = High: NexusOne is beautiful, and HTC, Motorola, Samsung and others will be flooding the market this year with phones.

2. Android phones tout features you can’t get on the iPhone. Likelyhood = Medium: You can’t multi-task on the iPhone (yet, it’s coming in iPhone 4.0) but you can on Android phones, you can also get turn-by-turn directions in GPS.

3. Android App Market has great applications you can’t get on the iPhone. Likelyhood = High: Most popular applications on the iPhone are now available in the Android App Market, which is growing at a torrid pace. With Apple shutting out Flash (and others like Unity3D) then you can bet that they’ll be developing for Android instead.

4. Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Google launch commercials showing a great device with great applications…and in the same breath say ‘you can’t get this on the iPhone’. Likelyhood = High.

5. Soccer mom walks into the nearest cell phone shop and says: “I’m looking for a new phone. I love my iPhone but can you tell me about these new ones with the cool apps?” Likelyhood = Medium.

If nothing else, Apple’s decision to restrict developer freedom is a positive for Google. Whether it shifts the balance away from Apple’s dominance of the North American smartphone market rests on whether developers play Apple’s game or not.

Will Apple’s dominance ensure that developers look to stay on and reap the rewards the iPhone/iPad, or will the growth of Android and Apple’s developer restrictions lure consumers and developers to Google? We should know sooner rather than later.

How the iPhone Changed Our Lives (or the day the App was born)

iPhone AppsThe iPhone has been celebrated for many things: great design, fun and easy to use, sharp media and a host of capabilities you never really thought you needed in a phone. But, perhaps the greatest impact Apple’s sleek device has had, and will continue to have on our lives is that it gave rise to ‘the App’. Sure, all of us that have been thinking, working, and living online since way back when know what an app is…kind of. It used to be something you used at work or at home to get something accomplished. There wasn’t any fun around it, or value outside of the exact thing you needed to do. MS Office, email, browsers, accounting programs…plus, no one ever called them apps; they are applications thank youvery much. But then came the iPhone and my sister who once took pride in not being ‘a computer nerd’ is smiling and telling everyone who will listen about the cool new ‘app’ she just downloaded. Wow.

The iPhone is great but you can get the same thing from other phones nowadays. What you can’t get on anything else is an App that lets you find the perfect place to eat, another App to get a taxi or find the closest subway stop,  and after you’re finished your amazing meal, grab the App that lets you calculate the tip between friends when you’re done. Still early? Don’t worry, find a movie to go see at the closest movie theater, play a game, or call someone long distance for free. Ya, there’s an App for that.

And that’s the genious of it. The iPhone is cool but Apps are our trusty little friends that make life more enjoyable. It’s the reason iPhone commercials don’t really talk about the phone at all but instead introduce you to more of these little digital buddies. It’s the reason that every mobile carrier and provider wants to offer an App Store. It’s the reason Google hasn’t pushed insane marketing dollars behind it’s phone. There aren’t enough Android apps yet to make your life so much better (but they’re coming!).

So, thank you Apple for giving life to the App. There’s no stopping how innovative the army of developers working on your behalf (another genious move, executed a lot better than Facebook) to make the iPhone our best friend can be, and thanks for spurring your competition to do the same.

Ideas and innovation spur more ideas and innovation. Now that the world is ready, we can get cracking on making these shiny new Apps go wherever we go. After all, my sister just asked me if she can shop for handbags on the Blackberry. Sure, why not?

The Power of P2P – A revolutionary opportunity for operators!

There is no denying that P2P (peer-to-peer) content distribution is massively popular with consumers, and disruptive to operators, content owners, etc.  The guys behind Kazaa made their bones in the internet game using P2P, then launched Skype, and now are focused on video with their coming service Joost. Network operators should take notice. 

Like I’ve always said, consumers are in control and they will get what they want no matter what you try to do to stop them.  P2P is great because it is a democracy – you get what you want, and pay less for it (if at all).  But it’s also an efficient and cost-effective distribution mechanism – way more cost effective than point to point distribution.  Instead of fighting it, operators can embrace P2P.

Computers aren’t what they used to be, adding the storage capacity of PVRs, people can have a terabyte of data sitting in their homes these days, and a fast broadband connection connected.  Those are the two enablers of P2P, storage and bandwidth.  Collectively, soon the storage in people’s homes could exceed that of the operator! The idea here is for operators to embrace P2P (BiTorrent, etc.) and incent customers to become content distributors!

An operator could…

1.      Recognize the number of people on a node in the network

2.      Provide an incentive for consumers to ‘sign up’ to be content distributors, and build the content their content distribution army!

3.      No when they get an on-demand movie order they can direct the consumer to any of the content distributors on the node

4.      The consumer picks the node with the best speed/price/etc. to deliver the content to them!

Basically, the operator still owns the rights, lowered the cost of distribution, and created an open marketplace for consumers to make money while providing a great, consumer-centric service!

Just one more way that ‘old media’ can take advantage of the greatness of the new digital world!

Escapade through Customer Service PT2: It’s my fault!?!

After, three more phone calls to Primus customer service, I finally got a call back today from their tech support department.  Here was the answer…

Primus: “Hi this is Primus, I understand you’ve been having an issue with service where your fax interferes with your voicemail?”

Me: Yes. It’s been three weeks now.

Primus: “Sorry about that but we fixed the issue.  What you have to do is program your fax machine to pick up on the other ring tone you have.”

Me: “Ok that’s fine, but it took three weeks for you guys to tell me that I have to do something?”

Primus: “Well, in the notes it looks like you logged the issue January 15th.  We just got the ticket in Tech Support January 31st.”

Me: “What?!? Since we first called about the issue almost three weeks ago, I’ve talked to five different CSRs. All of them told me that the issue is being worked on and it will be fixed within 24-48hrs. So, all of them lied to me?”

Primus: “I’m sorry that happened. You can definately log a complaint against the CSRs. We just got the ticket and fixed it.”

Me: “I understand. But actually, there was no fix.”

Primus: “Ya, I guess not.”

Me: “Ok, thanks. I guess I’ll write a complaint to the company.”

So, this post (and the last) is my complaint.  I didn’t have to program my fax machine when I was with Bell, so didn’t think I had to now.  The amazing thing is that none of the five CSRs I spoke with could tell me to do so! 

Bottom line:  Horrible customer service = loss of customer.  I’m deciding between going back to Bell or trying out Vonage.

Also, a note to companies:  Customers don’t care about what the CSR did/did not put in ‘the notes’, so stop using sentences that start with ‘well the notes say that…”.  If a CSR isn’t compitent enough to help me with my issue, why would I trust what they put in ‘the notes’?!?

My rant is over. Next post will be back on topic – everything digital. :)