News

Cablers Are Mad About iPad

10/25/2010 9:09 AM Eastern

New Orleans — Changing the
channel with an iPad tablet isn’t just
a neat parlor trick — it fundamentally
enhances the TV experience,
said Todd Walker, Comcast’s senior vice
president of video product development.

The iPad is the newest darling of the cable
industry. Comcast plans to release its iPad
app, which lets subscribers change channels,
as well as search listings and video-ondemand,
“very, very soon,” Walker said on a
panel here last week at the CTAM Summit.

CableLabs has developed a prototype for
a similar iPad remote control and is looking
to establish a common technical approach
for syncing up Internet-based devices with
set-top boxes.

“It is a fundamental game-changer,” Walker
said. “The thing that’s different is, it’s so
easy for consumers to find what they want
— and get instant fulfillment.”

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts
got the iPad hoopla rolling at the Cable
Show in May, showing off a demo of an early
prototype in his keynote.

Six months later, the iPad remote is nearly
ready for commercial launch, Walker said.
According to an executive familiar with
Comcast’s plans, the “Xfinity Remote”
app for the Apple iPad is
scheduled to be available either
Nov. 17 or 18.

Comcast also expects to extend
the feature to Android-based
phones and “any device you can think
of,” Walker added. “We expect to turn releases
every 90 days,” he said. “We have lots of
pent-up features we want to put into this.”

CableLabs worked up an iPad remote
proof of concept in about three and half
weeks, following Roberts’ demo, according
to senior architect Debbie Fitzgerald. Smallermarket
operators came to CableLabs to ask for
assistance putting an iPad remote together.

“Every operator we’ve spoken to is interested
in enhancing
their service in this
way,” Fitzgerald said.

The Comcast and CableLabs
apps use the
Enhanced TV Binary
Interchange Format
(EBIF) spec to communicate
with set-tops, with
an Internet server handling
the communication
between the set-top
and iPad or other device.

“The important thing is these are not IPenabled
set-top boxes,” Fitzgerald said. “We
can roll out these services quickly on existing
infrastructure.”

The CableLabs prototype app provides
searches, navigation, channel surfi ng and
program information. Additional apps are
also possible, Fitzgerald added, such as enhanced
guide listings, synchronized advertising
and social networking.

Time Warner Cable, for its part, has previously
discussed its own project for delivering
an iPad remote app.

Comcast employees who have participate in
the iPad remote control trial watch more video
on demand, and more paid VOD, according to
Walker. In some markets, Comcast has 30,000
titles on VOD: “It’s impossible to navigate that
on the TV. It’s really easy on a tablet,” he said.

After using the prototype iPad remote at
home, Walker said, “I will never use my onscreen
guide again.”