Electronic Design

Bridging The Ap Gap In Mobile Video: Finding The Sweet Spot In Suburbia

This week, I'm finally getting around to enabling the Vcast service on my Verizon phone. I'm interested in checking out these broadcasts, but as a commuter, it's hard to envision where mobile video fits into my life.

At home, I already shell out for hundreds of satellite TV stations I never watch. (I hear the average subscriber watches 15 channels, and I'm below average.) And with broadband "always on" at home and the office, I watch more news video via the Internet than I do on TV. With Internet Protocol television (IPTV) and its promised proliferation of narrowcast programming looming, it's hard to see the need to pay a monthly fee for video content on the phone.

When will I watch mobile video? If I'm not at home or the office, I'm in the car. Mobile video may have a niche there, except I'm usually behind the wheel. When I travel, my BlackBerry connects me to a stream of office e-mail, ensuring I have nary a minute of wasteful downtime. Its one-handed design is ideal for scrolling through messages while executing all those one-handed traveling tasks. I use its Web browser occasionally, so I might watch mobile video here instead. Maybe.

My three teenagers, particularly my son, find plenty of time for staring at small video screens. Mobile video is weaving its way into their lives via portable gaming and music devices. My son has a PSP, though so far he only has one movie for it—Napoleon Dynamite, of course—since movies cost as much as the games.

My daughters are angling to replace their iPods with the latest 60-Gbit video-enabled version. One of my daughters somehow submerged her iPod—in fact, her whole purse—in the toilet at a gas station bathroom. That had to be an accident, though. Even she wouldn't go that far for an iPod upgrade!

Perhaps demand for mobile video is part of today's generation gap. It's ideal for kids who are more connected with the virtual world than the real world. Now I'm really sounding ancient: "Kids, when I was your age, we had to spend the entire time in the car looking out the window!"

Maybe this generation gap is really an "ap gap." The first applications for mobile media target the sweet spots for kids: music videos and TV shows. The older generations are waiting for more "mature" applications---those killer Wireless Application Protocols (WAPs) that connect with the the passions of suburban homeowners.

Get ready for WAPenabled Web cams and home security systems that send you text alerts and connect you to video feeds of your property. Things get even more interesting when you add control functions, like remotely adjusting home lighting, HVAC, and security systems. Imagine being able to remotely let the dog out!

Forget the latest rap video. Think of coupling mobile video with the fixations of midlife suburbanites, like lawn care and pool maintenance. My fellow judges and I selected these two applications as the winners in a recent contest for creative uses for Lantronix's embedded networking devices.

The winner, eLAWN, is a Web-enabled sprinkler system. Submitted by Keith Emery at D&K Engineering, eLAWN incorporates weather station data and lets homeowners monitor watering schedules and sprinkler configurations. It even detects leaks and sprinkler failures and sends an e-mail alert!

I've never been a lawn fanatic. But some of the other judges may have been a bit turf-obsessed. "Oh, I've got to get one of those," one of them declared. Remote sprinkler monitoring and control realizes the true fantasy of the lawn devotee. Just add color Web cams to gaze on your green glory in real time!

The remote pool monitoring system, the contest's runner-up, was my favorite entry. As a pool owner and aspiring H20 maintenance expert, I admit to something of an obsession for the clarity and chemical composition of the water. There is a certain pride in that crystal clear water—paralleled, I imagine, by a lawn fanatic's hubris over his manicured perfection.

The WDC130 Wireless Pool Monitor uses sensors to track pH, chlorine level, temperature, and pressure, sending data for viewing via Web interface. System developer Don Davis of American Innovations says he is working on firmware to allow for remote control of a feeder pump to adjust the chemical balance.

Just think, if I add a WAP interface, I could monitor and control my pool's pH right from my cell phone! To create my dream video application, I'd add a couple of poolside cameras, with maybe one underwater to view water clarity. Hey, I might even be able to keep an eye on my kids as they sit watching movies on their iPods at the side of the pool!

See the figure

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