Mobile Streaming Media With Orb.com
I finally had a chance to play with the lastest version of Orb.com's service and I have to say it's pretty incredible. This isn't just because I'm pals with Ted Shelton, Orb's COO. I'm playing with it right now (on my Nokia 3230 of all phones) and it's freaking amazing. I'm really, really surprised at how well it works. I have pictures, video and music on my Windows box, and I was able to log in from my Mac web browser and, more importantly, from my mobile phone and have access to the content. That's a pretty neat trick.
I actually didn't have any personal data left on my PC, so after I installed the Orb service on my old Toshiba, I copied over a few hundred music files from my Mac, and a couple videos to see how it would work. I have to say I was pretty surprised when the music started streaming without a hitch - especially since the 3230 is just an EDGE class 5 device (like my 6620). I was *really* surprised when it started streaming Adam Curry's 28MB Saturday Podcast from Central Park - that's when I realized how freakin' cool this service is. I just downloaded it into a shared folder, it automatically appeared on the menu on my phone and with a click I was listening to Adam on my phone.
It doesn't stop there though, I copied over a 10MB Quicktime .mov video as well (Steve Gillmor explaining the long tail) and when *that* started streaming on my phone as well, I was pretty blown away. I went for broke and tried to stream a 178MB Daily Show DiVX AVI I had hanging around, but when I clicked on the file on my mobile, at that moment a Quicktime error popped up on my PC saying that that file format wasn't supported. (That probably is not a good thing to have happen while remote, but it serves me right for trying to stream pirated TV shows. :-) . I don't have any other avis hanging around, so I can't keep testing it, but honestly, I'm impressed enough right now with what I've already seen. (But... does anyone know how to get Quicktime to play DiVX vids? It seems Orb's system is using Quicktime libraries for encoding...)
The streaming was impressive, but Orb definitely needs to work on the web/mobile menu interface though. Saying it sucks is not too strong a description. There's a lot of stuff in there which you can see is there in preparation for the day that Orb is an incredible success and you organize your whole media experience around it. We're not there yet, so they need to get rid of 75% of the list items and ways of drilling down into the folders and just get to what you want. Since you can only play one file at a time, a search style interface wouldn't be a bad idea, or at least less levels so I can get at my content faster.
This could really be a great "Personal Streaming Radio" station. If you have an iPodder downloading into a Podcasts directory which is then shared out with Orb? That's pretty freakin' awesome. Though honestly, I don't feel like bothering with all that effort (even though my PC is just sitting here idle for most of the day), just like I use Bloglines to get my feeds for me on the server, I'd like Orb to grab my podcasts for me as well. It only makes sense, no? Then they'd have to change their model from a "proxying" service to more of a "cacheing/streaming" service, but I think (just like Adam and Evan) that's where some massive opportunity is.
In fact, I'd say if Orb doesn't want to do it themselves, they should open up their back end with an API and let others do it instead. Imagine - Orb handles the proxying, menu, encoding, etc. and all you do is handle the UI and the data storage for whatever custom media content you want to serve up? Everything from Podcasts to training videos to quarterly shareholder conference call recordings, etc. All available to you where ever you are.
Cool stuff. Seeing this work in person definitely makes you think that IDC's numbers might be a bit off. I think at least half of the mobile users in the U.S. will be using this stuff for real in just a few years, 30m is too low.