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iPhone paramount to blinkx mobile engine

Video search specialist tailors mobile version to suit Apple

The mobile version of blinkx’s video search engine has been unleashed and, while it has been designed to help all phone users find clips in a more streamlined and tailored fashion, the iPhone was very much at the forefront of developers’ minds during its conception.

blinkx online, for those who haven’t checked it out, is a dedicated search engine for video clips. It uses proprietary conceptual search algorithms, speech recognition and video analysis software to point to content from all over the Web, not just YouTube. And is capable of playing both MPEG-4 and Flash-based footage. The iPhone, of course, cannot.

It’s the primary reason that blinkx has opted, for now, to omit Flash content from its mobile engine: “You have a much lower barrier of annoyance with a mobile phone. Things have to work”, says Suranga Chandratillake, CEO of blinkx, Inc. “With a phone you hit a button and it just works. It’s really annoying if you get errors or bugs, or you have to download something or whatever else.

“You’re used to that on a computer, but it’s just not the done thing on a phone. So we’d rather err on the conservative, as it were, and make sure that every video you come across is one that you can see on your phone, rather than run the risk of showing you a link that, when you click on it, doesn’t work”.

“It’s the reason why we’ve taken a very strict filtering approach, and we will only show you videos that will play on your phone”.

Obviously, this is predominantly focused towards iPhone (and iPad) use, but may not be in the future: “At the moment we have one mobile version that will work on all phones”, Suranga explains. “And it does work on all devices; the ‘droid phones, the appropriate Palm Pilots, and on the appropriate Blackberrys.

“Of course, some of those phones support formats other than MP4s - they support Flash - and as those phones take off more, you’ll see a version of our mobile site that will detect what phone you have, and potentially show you more or less video depending on that. But right now the vast majority of mobile users are still using an iPhone. And that means MP4 only”.

While this may come as a disappointment to Apple-abstainees, however, it doesn’t mean that blinkx mobile is too hamstrung: “People will be surprised at how little [Flash] is used already. We did some stats recently which showed that about two-thirds of our 35 million hours of indexed video is MP4 or h.264 compatible. So, actually, a lot of video already is in a non-Flash format”, says Suranga.

He also hints that Steve Jobs could end up winning the battle with Adobe: “The difference is that a lot of the players that play video are made in Flash. And that’s the irony of the whole story. The [online] blinkx player is in Flash, so if you go to the normal blinkx site on your phone, that won’t work, even if the video underneath works absolutely fine.

“So, for that reason, for most sites it’s not a huge change to make what they’re doing compatible with the Apple platforms. All they have to do is change the player, which is a much, much easier thing than having to re-encode the video. For that reason, I think that we will see a movement towards non-Flash. And, very rapidly, we could see the tide turning against the Flash stuff”.

For now, though, blinkx is happy that its mobile platform works with all handsets, and to sit back and wait for the dust to settle on Mr Jobs’ crusade.