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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Inter-technology competition and substitution - photo-sharing as an example

I recently came across a suggested use case for IMS RCS, which was essentially "display photos taken on your phone, on your home TV screen".

Fair enough, I can see the value in that as general idea. Whether it's boring friends with your holiday snaps, or showing Granny some pictures of the baby, I can definitely see that there is a valid user requirement to display photos on a big, high-res screen on occasion.

But that then got me thinking about the options for doing this, and the variables involved.

Without a comprehensive analysis, off the top of my head I could think of the following broad range of mechanisms for getting the image data from A to B:

- Beaming photos via Bluetooth from phone to TV
- Attachment via USB cable, or some proprietary cable from the handset/TV manufacturers
- WiFi transfer either peer-to-peer, or via your home gateway/router
- Memory card to a slot in the TV or set-top box (or perhaps in the remote control?)
- Some sort of integrated triple-play photo sharing service via the operator's core, conceivably across multiple operators if they interoperate
- Local break-out and sharing via a femtocell (3G from the phone, then ethernet to the TV)
- Upload to an Internet photo-sharing site, then access via an Internet-capable TV or STB
- MMS to an operator or off-portal service provider, then down to the TV via some sort of narrow-cast
- Various other options involving going via a PC as an intermediate step

And then there are numerous other variables involved:

- How technically-savvy are you?
- What sort of phone and OS is it?
- Does it have WiFi, 3G, RCS, Bluetooth some sort of photo-display software, and can you set them up and use them properly?
- What sort of TV or set-top do you have, and what are its interface and display features?
- Do you want to display the picture compressed or uncompressed?
- Single picture or a whole stream of them? What's the UI?
- How much control do you want from the phone? ("oops, better skip showing THAT pic to Granny")
- Do you want the photos persistently stored off the phone? Where? In the TV, in the operator's network, in your social network / photo website of choice?
- Do you want to edit or comment on the pictures? (eg comments, "like" etc)
- Do you want to display on other peoples' TVs & via their broadband? (eg Granny's) Do they have IPTV/triple play? Do they need some sort of "subscription" for this?
- Do you want to display on TVs when you're roaming?
- Is there adequate cellular coverage in the place you want to do this?
- How much latency will you tolerate in flipping from one pic to the next?

And perhaps most importantly - are you prepared to pay for this?

Not such an easy problem to solve, is it? There's a huge set of permutations, usage scenarios and technical options.

In this instance, without having analysed this particular problem in a lot of depth, my initial feel is that:

- sending uncompressed image files "tromboned" up through the cellular network and then down through the home broadband is usually going to be a bad experience
- many people will think "why bother?" and just either show the pictures on the phone screen (which is getting higher in quality), or use a PC or tablet as a display device instead. In future, the phone may also have a built-in projector.
- nobody is going to pay for this, unless it is such an utterly flawless user experience that it leave all the other options in the dust.
- if the photos are good, you'll want to put them up on the web somewhere anyway, for sharing in "non realtime" with all your other friends and relations
- an operator-mediated phone-to-TV photo sharing service, even if only the signalling traffic goes up to the network & the image is transferred locally, is going to be a pain to get working in many instances. Given nobody will pay for it, and it's feasible to do it in many other ways, it will neither generate revenues nor improve loyalty. Support costs may mean it's loss-making.

The question left outstanding is "how could the phone-to-TV photo display experience be enhanced and differentiated"? Clearly, ease-of-use and control is important - as is the ability to support many of the scenarios I list above.

But perhaps there's something more - a clever enhancement about comments/recommendation, or geo-tagging, or image analysis or whatever. Personally, I have no idea - and I'd be surprised if many telcos do either.

But someone will.

Which means that any added-value photo-transfer capability will almost certainly either be:

- end-to-end proprietary, eg from Apple or Sony or similar
- open to developers to do cool stuff at both ends of the connection

Incidentally - my RCS research paper is nearing completion. Details will be posted here and please contact me via - information AT disruptive-analysis DOT com if you'd like get pricing and the option of a pre-order discount.

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