I just got finished organizing a Home Screen on my iPhone with a whole new subject area — streaming content. It’s one that, until now, I have completely ignored because I didn’t think it was for me.
I was wrong.
Having FlyTunes, AccuRadio, Revision 3, and others on a Home Screen opens up even more possibility for the iPhone (or iPod touch). What if I want to catch up with “Tekzilla” or “The GigaOm Show” and I’ve not downloaded them via iTunes, or I’m not sitting in front of my computer or the AppleTV?
Easy. Tap the Revision 3 icon on the iPhone, tap All Shows, and scroll through a listing of programs. I expect this to come in handy when I’m out and about with the wife and kid and they’re trying on clothes for three hours.
Om Malik to the rescue.
So like a kid with a new toy, I surveyed streaming content for the iPhone and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. I assembled the following list based on stuff I like, so if you have other favorites, please let us know in the comments.
I have a few spaces left on this Home Screen.
“Big Name” Audio & Video
FlyTunes debuted in January but it has gotten a lot of attention lately as it now includes news and entertainment videos from Comedy Central, NBC, CBS, and a bunch of audio and video podcasts.
FlyTunes starts with a simple question: What do you want to do? You can choose to change radio bitrates, watch video, listen to or watch podcasts, or sample AccuRadio. You’re asked for a genre (news, politics, sports, and so on) and a station (Comedy Central Standup, for example). Tap on a show and, ideally, it begins playing in about 30 seconds. That’s it.
AccuRadio is a popular Internet radio site. You now have access to its 300-plus channels on the iPhone via FlyTunes. Like any Internet or satellite radio station, I am never sure how deep the music goes — do they have all of the Columbia jazz catalog or just part? — but there’s enough here to get started and keep you interested for short bits of time.
When you’re bored and restless with the music on your iPhone or Touch, try SeeqPod. It’s an excellent way to search for and discover new artists and music. The Popular Artists and Popular Playlists sections, though, are alpha lists that really don’t mean anything.
BBC iPlayer and BBC Podcasts
Watch programs from the BBC with the iPlayer, but only if you’re in the UK. iPlayer content is blocked in the United States, for example. Bummer. As a consolation, you can stream BBC podcasts from anywhere.
Revision3 is building a new media empire. It already has an impressive brand name, and it’s getting better all the time. Like many streaming sites, Revision3 offers video search, notifications of new videos, the ability to forward a video to a friend, social networking features, tech, video, music, and comic book content.
And they have Om.
“User-generated” Audio & Video
Here you can find humorous video clips and a ton of user-generated content. It’s not, however, unlike watching YouTube on your iPhone or Touch.
Mobovivo might be considered user-generated but with polish. Its business model is different than others: You can stream shows to the iPhone or Touch for free or you can purchase ($1.99) for download and ownership. Some of the shows are well produced and may be worth owning, depending on your interests. I found the yoga show “Namaste” and “Beer, An Insider’s Guide” interesting, only now I’ve got to free up 30 minutes to watch.
Sph3re is a free service that delivers movie trailers, short films, 3D animations. The quality, from what I’ve seen, is usually better than if you found the same content on YouTube.
All stream audio and video podcasts to the iPhone or Touch. I liked Podcaster and Podcast Pickle much better, although Mobile Podcast USA does have its charm. Podcaster’s directory includes more than 5,000 audio and video podcasts, including excellent choices from mainstream media (CNN, NPR) and new media (Revision3, This Week in Technology and the TWiT empire). Podcaster is like having the iTunes’ podcast directory in your pocket.
ZooVision is a bit of an oddball but notable nonetheless. Like other sites, you can stream music videos, daily news clips, audio and video podcasts, anime, cartoons, movie trailers, even full-length (obscure) films and TV shows like “Dragnet” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” ZooVision includes a real-time chat component, but the interface is cluttered and difficult to maneuver.
GIMP TV is not unlike Revision3, but with less of a technology focus. Its shows look promising — “Storytime,” “Comedy Spotlight,” “Best of Beer,” “Best of Coffee” — but I’ve not had the time to watch. Yet.
Others of Note
An example of a local production. This one focuses on online positive music from Fort Wayne, Indiana.
You can stream music from your collection at home to an iPhone or Touch through a wireless Internet connection without iTunes, but you need a jailbroken iPhone (requirements).
All sorts of diverse programming, much of it user generated.
Just like iLike for Facebook, the iPhone and Touch mobil versions help you find local concerts and stay up to date with artists in your area; the site includes video feeds.
These are other video delivery platforms for the iPhone and Touch and provide impressive access to any Web-based video. None of these services stream Flash content. Update: vTap can transcode content on the fly so that included Flash video sources can be played on the iPhone.
While streaming content to an iPhone or Touch seems to work well, there are two serious rubs. These are annoying for some, deal-breakers for others.
The biggest rub is connection speed. Many streaming providers say their services work with “high band” (or Wi-Fi) and “low band” (or AT&T’s EDGE network). In my testing, I had problems with both but, as you would expect, EDGE is much slower and finickier and less of an ideal user experience.
Speed issues should improve when the faster 3G iPhone becomes available next month, although it remains to be seen how much. On the whole, I found streaming via Wi-Fi to be mostly dependable and enjoyable.
As for the second rub: streaming sucks battery life. And you know, battery power is in short supply and high demand with the iPhone. Streaming around the house or when you’re near a power source, no big deal. But when you’re sitting outside a dressing room or waiting to see the doctor, you may not want to stream too much content until you gauge its effect on your phone’s battery.
Streaming content to an iPhone, a Touch, or any other mobile device is still in its infancy and will improve over time. It’s not perfect. You will experience slow streams, Safari crashes, hit-or-miss content quality. The business models have yet to be worked out.
But it’s not unlike what we are seeing in the TV industry, with streaming becoming more popular for the big networks and on sites such as Hulu. Mobile is just the next streaming frontier.