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Comcast puts predictable iPad app out, Android to follow

The Xfinity TV app out this week from leading US cable operator Comcast, just shows us that Tablets have a long way to go

By PETER WHITE

Published: 18 November, 2010

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The Xfinity TV app out this week from leading US cable operator Comcast, just shows us that Tablets have a long way to go. Yes you can use it to change the TV channel, look up what’s on TV, program your DVR and soon to streaming TV Everywhere programming, but it won’t let you watch cable TV on it, not yet.

For the past 6 years watching and storing what’s on TV has been one of the Holy Grails of companies like Comcast, and the iPad promised the type of screen that is needed to achieve this. But the technical requirements of protecting content on the journey from set top to iPad are still one step too far for Hollywood to endorse this kind of move.

Essentially all pay TV providers are stopping short of this because it would require putting a security chip into the device (or into a dongle) and that step appears to be too expensive for pay TV operators to try right now. The idea seems to be to offer something attractive for customers to use right now and think about these functions later on.

So while we have seen demos at the IBC conference in September of people watching alternative TV channels to the main TV, in the same room, using DLNA endorsed DTCP-IP protected streams, that’s not something you are going to be able to buy from your TV operator any day now.

Still the Xfinity app is still pretty important from Comcast’s point of view. It has witnessed broadcasters getting into market first with iPad apps and needed to bring the iPad platform to its customers pretty quickly.

The new Xfinity TV app, which will enable Xfinity TV, only for its digital customers, will let you watch some TV shows and movies on the iPad, but these are essentially sent over the internet, as adaptive streams. Right now these can only be watched in your home, but Comcast expects to later open the Xfinity TV Everywhere service to on-the-go iPads, with its next release. Right now it is tied to the same broadband line which carried your cable TV.

The Xfinity TV app lets customers change TV channels from the iPad; allows sophisticated search on movies and cable shows, with the search taking in what’s on TV, what’s on its VoD platforms or available online and it supports the creation of “Watchlists” – lists of programs which you can queue up and watch at your leisure. The company showed it off at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco this week. The app is free to Comcast Digital customers.

Comcast promised it would soon add seamless discussion about TV programming on social networking sites and allow others to see what friends are watching.

This is the first in a series of scheduled app releases for Comcast who will also launch several Android apps this year along with similar functionality on the BlackBerry phones and other tablets. Comcast has had an iPhone app since 2009.

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