What's old is new again: analog TV and dedicated mobile TV players

Remember those brainteasers that ask you to identify what two seemingly disparate things have in common? Try this one: FLO TV Personal Television and MaxLinear's new digital/analog mobile TV tuner. One thing both of them have in common is that neither of them should be happening, if you go by all the mobile TV predictions that have been made in the past several years.

It once again appears that received wisdom is off the mark.

Who would have guessed that the newest posy in the mobile TV tuner chip bouquet would be MaxLinear's new hybrid analog/digital tuner? Or that QUALCOMM would decide that the best marketing strategy for its FLO TV mobile TV service would be bundling a dedicated player with it?
How did the industry pundits miss the boat on analog mobile TV? Well, some people didn’t miss it: for example, analog mobile TV chip maker Telegent, whose mobile TV tuners are now integrated into more than 80 handsets worldwide and sold in China, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe

"When we got started, every other company was focused on broadcast reception of newly developed digital TV standards," says Telegent VP of marketing Diana Jovin. "It was believed it was impossible to use analog systems to receive broadcast TV on mobile devices — no chip was low enough power."

Sometimes we make these mistakes because we're looking for something dramatic when the compelling reasons are very ordinary, says In-Stat VP Frank Dickson, author of the industry-disrupting report “Analog Mobile TV: The World's Most Widely Available Option for Mobile TV.”

It's not just that analog mobile TV is free; it also doesn't require a commitment in the form of a service contract. Plus, the content is relevant, i.e. local stations. "It's not necessarily the best content or specifically for mobile; it's content focused for the local TV market," Dickson says. "You just happen to have a handset that picks it up. There's a different expectation. With an analog signal, there's no guarantee that I'll get a signal. [If I don't,] I'm not going to call up the station and complain."

Like analog TV, dedicated mobile TV devices were written off by critics. When was the last time you turned on your Sony Watchman? On the other hand, while the joined-at-the-hip association of mobile TV with the mobile phone makes sense in one way — one device instead of two — it doesn't in another. That's simplicity for viewers. A dedicated device makes TV accessible via a single, easy-to-understand button — no menu tree or app store needed.

More than a year and a half ago, in "The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same," I quoted EDN senior editor Brian Dipert's March 2008 piece, "Mobile Television: Free And Location-Free." Dipert makes a cogent argument for dedicated mobile TV players.

"Any secondary application that drains the battery and precludes subsequent access to the unit's primary application — making and receiving phone calls, for example — will likely receive a cool reception by consumers, especially if it's also one that considerably adds to the unit's price tag." Dipert goes on to suggest "alternatives with more focused functions" and "a lengthier list of alternative infrastructure approaches."