Streaming video apps were verboten on the App Store for years, while AT&T's network was falling over itself trying to handle just basic connectivity. Finally, after customer outcries forced AT&T to beef up their network - particular in the larger cities where many iPhone users dwell - apps like SlingPlayer were granted the right to stream video over AT&T's network
. However, at least according to the carrier, they had to rework their app to "optimize" it for use with AT&T's network. Now, Apple is apparently placing the same restriction on video-streaming apps that will be carried on the App Store. Justin.TV's vice-president Evan Solomon told TechCrunch
that Apple required that their iPhone app be able to downgrade to a lower-quality video stream when AT&T's network is congested.
Last year, Sling released its SlingPlayer app for the iPhone, but Apple restricted it to use with WiFi connections only
. Sling blamed AT&T and AT&T, in effect, blamed Sling, with an AT&T spokesman saying "it's absolutely cool" that the app can redirect your home TV connection to your phone, "but if we allowed these kinds of services, the highway would quickly become clogged." The problem was, of course, that AT&T already allowed the BlackBerry version of the SlingPlayer, not to mention iPhone apps like Major League Baseball's MLB.com At Bat
. Finally, AT&T gave its blessing
to SlingPlayer, but only after Sling "optimized [the SlingPlayer app] for our 3G network to conserve wireless spectrum and reduce the risk that an app will cause... extreme levels of congestion."
Now, Apple is apparently laying the same type of restriction on other video-streaming apps. In situations where network conditions become so congested that the standard bitrate can't run on the 3G network, or if the phone switches to the EDGE network, the app will have to support a less bandwidth-intense stream. Justin.TV encodes its content in two versions, adding a 64kbps stream as the fall-back to the standard 200kbps stream. Solomon said that they "were a bit confused by this request at the time, as none of the other live video applications in the App Store had that feature." However, he continued, "Apple was very adamant that we add it—they wouldn’t approve our app without it."
Apple has been encouraging the use of adaptive bitrates for streaming video since officially sanctioning HTTP streaming
in iPhone OS 3.0, allowing phones to autoselect the best bitrate for a stream depending on network conditions. And since Apple has been strongly promoting the video capabilities of the new iPad, with its much larger screen, both Apple and AT&T are probably fearing that the onslaught of millions of new video-hogs will choke its network. But it's a double-edged sword: Verizon will be waiting
to entice users onto its network, where adaptive bitrate encoding will mean users would be more likely to get full resolution.