By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 5:59 pm
Back before I had an iPhone, I owned an AT&T Tilt phone. I ran the Windows Mobile version of SlingPlayer on it to watch my TiVo back home from my phone, courtesy of the Slingbox in my entertainment center. It worked wonderfully well over the AT&T network, and when I bought an iPhone 3G and put the Tilt into retirement, losing SlingPlayer was one of the few ways in which becoming an iPhone user wasn’t a major upgrade to my mobile life.
Today, eleven months after Sling announced it was working on SlingPlayer for iPhone, the app showed up in the iPhone App Store. In many ways, the iPhone was born to run SlingPlayer–video looks great on its sizable screen, and the software makes excellent use of a touch-driven user interface that pops up only when you need it.
Apple only accepted the application after Sling removed the ability to watch video over the iPhone’s cell connection. Unlike other incarnations of SlingPlayer Mobile, it’s Wi-Fi only. Still a neat application, but one that won’t work in many of the places where I used to enjoy the Windows Mobile version, such as airport gates and my car.
(Clarification: It would work at airports, but I’d have to pay for the Wi-Fi in most places. And no, I don’t watch TV while driving…but I did used to call on SlingPlayer Mobile’s audio-only option, which both the Windows Mobile and iPhone versions offer.)
Apple isn’t saying why it forced SlingPlayer to go Wi-Fi only. But even if it had 3G access, using it would violate AT&T’s terms of service, which were recently rewritten to prohibit rerouting of a TV signal to a mobile computer. AT&T says that apps like SlingPlayer would simply hog too much precious bandwidth if it permitted them; the rule seems kinda arbitrary, considering that there are multiple iPhone apps that stream full-length video programming, such as CBS’s TV.com. And is AT&T busting folks who use SlingPlayer Mobile versions for other platforms?
On one level, I get AT&T’s concern–hey, its 3G network seems to clog up easily even without people streaming TV from their Slingboxes. But the release of a fundamentally crippled version of SlingPlayer for the iPhone is a sobering reminder that today’s wireless networks aren’t capable of supporting everything that we’d like to do with them, and the problem will only get worse as millions of people buy smartphones such as the iPhone. And it leaves me wondering whether any upcoming iPhone version of Hulu–which is, in many ways, a SlingPlayer-like service that doesn’t require a Slingbox–is going to be similarly dumbed down.
SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone and iPod Touch is $29.99–the same price as other versions, but the most I’ve paid for an iPhone app by a factor of about 3X, and pricey given that it doesn’t do the one thing that many Slingbox owners would like it to. Maybe I’m a wild-eyed optimist, but I’m hoping that Sling will eventually be permitted to add 3G support, and that those of us who have paid thirty bucks for this first version will get free upgrades.
After the jump, some screenshots of iPhone SlingPlayer in action (and I repeat–except for the network restriction, this is a nicely-done application).