iPhone users who love TV have reason to celebrate today: AT&T has announced that its 3G network will now support the SlingPlayer Mobile TV app. SlingPlayer is a service that allows users to watch live or digitally recorded television through the Internet. Up to now, that kind of live video streaming hasn't been very functional through the AT&T's 3G network. This development is significant for several reasons: it shows that AT&T is working to improve its network capabilities, it adds an additional dimension to the iPhone's capabilities and it could make the iPad a little more attractive.
AT&T's Getting It
First, it should be noted that this announcement comes from AT&T -- not Apple. MarketWatch explains:
Sling Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of EchoStar, originally developed its wireless app to make efficient use of 3G network bandwidth - and to conserve the finite wireless spectrum available to the wireless industry. Since mid December 2009, AT&T has been testing the app and has recently notified Sling Media -- as well as Apple - that the optimized app can run on its 3G network.
AT&T has drawn a great deal of criticism about its network. This news indicates that its improvements must be working, as it feels comfortable that its network can sustain the additional 3G traffic that streaming live television would bring.
This also indicates that AT&T must be serious about wanting to continue soaking up all iPhone business going forward, despite reports that Apple might want to expand its iPhone service coverage to other carriers. The more functional AT&T allows Apple's mobile devices to be, the more likely Apple is to stick with AT&T. And, of course, iPhone users will be happier with AT&T as well.
The iPhone As A Mini-TV
This also marks an important step for the iPhone. It has always shown video, and even streamed video nicely if stored internally or through WiFi. But it didn't work quite as well over the 3G network. What you got there was generally pretty low-quality, slow, and unreliable. If AT&T really has improved its network so that its traffic can handle live video, then iPhone users will begin relying on the device for the purpose of watching live TV too.
Of course, this is still only a first step. Not all iPhone users are also SlingPlayer customers. But the fact that this app could pass AT&T's and Apple's standards means more live video apps should follow. The biggest barrier was network capability.
The iPad As A Bigger Mini-TV?
Finally, assuming that the optimized video will also display well on the iPad's larger screen, this is a very important development for Apple's newest device. Remember, it runs on AT&T's 3G network, so this news should apply to it as well. That means, suddenly, it becomes a TV anywhere you can get a 3G signal. And with its screen size significantly larger than that of the iPhone, iPad users can watch television comfortably. Although watching video is possible on the iPhone, it will actually be pleasant on the iPad. I've mentioned in the past that I think the iPad will have trouble differentiating itself as a necessary device to own, but now it can also appeal to those who want an extremely portable television on which they can watch live programming wherever they can get 3G.