Let’s face it. If we want to get a sneak peak at what our mobile phones and services can do a year or two in the future, we just have to look at the Helio content deck today. Since Helio launched as an MVNO over the Sprint EV-DO network, some of the biggest names of the Internet and gaming have looked to the company as a testbed for their future mobile apps. This week YouTube added its name to the list.
MySpace signed on first with a native app for Helio’s handset line that allowed the obsessed social networking masses to access their profiles. That app appeared eight months later on Cingular/AT&T’s content deck (albeit with a $3 a month a charge). Last November, Helio was the first operator to begin embedding Google Maps and integrating it with GPS on its handsets. A few weeks later, Google released Maps along with mobile versions of Gmail as Java downloads, but Google Maps didn’t appear again in an out-of-the-box handset until the iPhone was released this summer. The iPhone was supposed to give Helio a run for its for money, but the operator showed this week it can still outfox Apple.
YouTube made the Helio Ocean the showcase for its new revamped video sharing portal. It’s not that Apple hasn’t gotten any love from YouTube–the YouTube portal went live on the iPhone just as it did on the Ocean and several other smartphones around the world. But unlike Apple’s implementation, the Ocean allowed customers to upload videos to the site. And this week, Helio pulled off another coup: the majority of YouTube’s 10 million-plus video libraryis now available for viewing on the Ocean’s YouTube portal, as well as customization, community and tagging functions that were previously enabled only on the online YouTube site. I’d venture to say that this isn’t just a marketing shenanigan. Gizmodo was impressed with the service’s new functionality, and they have a special place in their hearts for the iPhone.
If you’re not familiar with YouTube’s current offering for the mobile Web, let me assure you it sucks. Try pointing your phone browser at m.youtube.com. If it works at all in your browser or on your media player, you’ll get a list of pre-sorted videos for your consumption. Try search for the “Flight of the Conchords” and you’ll get squat (Now search the Conchords through YouTube on the PC browser–you won’t be sorry I promise). The problem is YouTube renders all of its videos in the Flash format. Since Flash video isn’t supported on any current phone, YouTube has to transfer its content to another format, which it clearly wasn’t about to do to every video of a drooling children on its site. For the Helio platform, however, YouTube just did that. I’m not sure how they did it. The Ocean may be supporting Flash, though I doubt it–Adobe just released this fall the version of Flash Lite supporting video. Perhaps they’re just converting every YouTube video into alternate formats. If you know, I’d like to hear from you (That’s what the comment section is for…)