Flow's mobile remote

My Business Guardian story on Flow's new mobile remote system.
Cable service on any screen you choose
Published in the Business Guardian on December 01, 2011
Paul Beauregard and Jay Deen of UXP Systems, Toronto, Canada during the set up of the alpha test of their new product for Flow at the company’s Port of Spain offices. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

At your office, you log in on the web and scroll through the schedule of programming and set an episode to record. In the departure lounge at Piarco, bored, you skip through the shows currently on television on your tablet, it’s too early for anything interesting, so you check the messages on your home phone.

Anywhere you can connect to the Internet, you’ll be able to access any of these services and more using Multiscreen Access, a new software product from Columbus Communications that looks set to shake up the way cable television services work in the Caribbean.

The new service, in extremely limited alpha testing this early in the development process, was offered exclusively to the Guardian for trial.
The software is simple enough in concept. Using a sophisticated system of background authentications, it hooks a computer or mobile device to the services you are using on Columbus’ Flow offerings.

What it connects and what it delivers are currently limited while the programmers figure out all the glitches in the service, but if you have an iPad or a recent iPhone, you can, right now, view a schedule of programming, view live television and check messages left on your Flow phone.

The product is still sketchy at this stage of its development. The schedule takes forever to load and doesn’t seem to cache data particularly well, I’ll also have to take that Flow Talk service more seriously in order to set up the voicemail system that’s necessary to check messages. There are just four channels available for live TV viewing, and they are sometimes prone to unexpected pauses.

But even with all those issues, which representatives from the development company, UXP Systems, freely, even enthusiastically admit to, there’s something a bit exciting and a little scary about both the technology. It’s a little bit of Slingbox, a little bit of Skype and lot of “it does what?”

The final product won’t just check phone messages, it will allow you to use your Flow phone wherever you are with your mobile device. Also in the development pipeline is the ability to program your Flow DVR remotely and view, pause and switch devices while watching Video-on-Demand content. When you can live stream whatever you want to watch to a mobile device as well, things begin to become quite interesting.

From Columbus’ point of view, the big win is in creating trackable identities for everyone using its services and being able to see in more detail which specific services are being used. From the company’s point of view, it isn’t blasting product out to a vast mass of users anymore, it’s targeting a multitude of markets of one.

Columbus already knows who its Flow customers are at the household level, but this new product gives them the opportunity to learn more about the preferences of each of its customers.
That information is won when you sign up for the Multiscreen Access Pass, which identifies you as a user on the service. The person who pays the bill can then set up associated identities for other users in the household. At this point, it’s possible to set up parental controls that limit what each viewer can do with the service and what they can see. Most of this is still on a developer wishlist for the product.

“We’ve had some hiccups,” admitted Jay Deen, vice-president, Product Development for UXP Systems that evening, “and we’re learning already.”
Over the next six weeks, the alpha testers, most of them Flow staff, will be asked to test updates to the software and services before the larger “friends and family” test scheduled for the first quarter of 2012, in which a larger group of users will be asked to try a more stable version of the new service.

By then, UXP Systems hopes to have versions of the software available for all its target platforms, devices running at minimum iOS version 4.3, Android 2.2, Windows XP and MacOS 10.6.
Powering the service is the company’s switch to IPTV, which will enable more interactivity with its products, such as active recommendations and Facebook ‘Likes’ of popular episodes.

There are potentially large issues of privacy associated with the collection of personal information and viewing preferences that the company promises to address before the public roll-out of the Multiscreen Access service and there may well be copyright issues involved in redirecting programming across the web for already nervous content providers.

But UXP’s Jay Deen sees video as “one of the killer applications.”
“Television viewing is no longer a passive experience, and this product will enable social engagement in viewing.”
At least one of Flow’s rivals, DirecTV, already has an app on the market that offers some of this functionality, but that software doesn’t do anything with the local service so far that I can figure out.

“The difference is in creating a product that reaches across all the possibilities of the service,” UXP’s vice-president, Professional Services, Paul Beauregard said, “bundling the services that the customer uses into a product that they can access multidimensionally.”

Acknowledging the surprising capacity of users to use products in unusual ways, Beauregard noted that “We want to enable the future, but we don’t want to predict it.”
UXP Systems was established in March this year and began working on the Columbus project “essentially since day one,” according to Deen.

The company has close ties to Columbus and Brendan Paddick, Columbus’ CEO, sits on the UXP board. The company has several patents pending on how it’s implementing this cross-pollination of IPTV, VOIP, personality based databases and Internet interactivity.
General availability for the service is scheduled for mid-2012.
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