A (most interesting) hour with the DStv Mobile team

Posted on September 9, 2011

This afternoon (31/8/2011) I had the pleasure of spending an hour with the DStv mobile team. Thanks to Maiyo for setting it up and to Bradley and Neil for giving freely of your time.

The DStv mobile product is a fairly simple one. There are the two hardware devices (the Drifta and USB Drifta). The USB Drifta is the simpler one to deal with as it works only with PC’s. There is client software for Windows and as a pleasant surprise, software for Mac is under development and at a fairly advanced stage. No mention of release dates, after the previous debacle around late releases the team is hyper-sensitive to this issue and would clearly rather under-promise and over-deliver, can’t blame them for that one.

Neil spoke a little around the development life cycle, and how the windows client was developed first, then the iPad version, and now the Mac. The Mac version takes the best user interface elements of the previous ones and builds on that. At a later stage the Windows version will be updated to bring this new user interface to us. Although it doesn’t change the fundamental product it is a nice touch. I asked around PVR type functionality which is hinted at in the Drifta BIOS. Sadly this isn’t allowed in the content license agreements.

I got to play with an android tab and phone version of the Drifta clients for a short while. They work as expected, touch interface and look good. Still testing to do and kinks to work out, but they are coming.

I put my three phones (a Blackberry, Nokia and Andoid device) on the table and asked the big question. What happened, the delays, the promises, the angry community, the inadequate response. When are we getting the promised clients.

The team was honest, embarrassed and clearly hurt by what had happened. They missed the deadlines, and badly. They pissed off their customers and are well aware of it and trying hard to avoid repeating the situation. I think this has led to the huge lack of information around current state. They are very scared of creating any further expectations that can’t be met, even if those are through customers misinterpreting what has been said.

Before, we were told that there would be client software for Android, Nokia and Blackberry. That is a very wide statement to make (and was a mistake). There are just too many classes of devices in each of those camps, and by not being more specific false expectations were created. The delays have also led to devices which were mainstream being largely out of the picture and having to work towards moving goalposts. In the Android arena there have been a plethora of devices and OS versions. None of this has made things easy.

That said, they have been working hard to try to bring the client to these devices. They want it out there, it opens up the market hugely and can only be in their interests.

We spoke mostly about Android and Blackberry. Nokia (Symbian) was mentioned more in passing. Nokia has all but abandoned Symbian and moved on to Windows Mobile 7. It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense for DStv to be investing a lot of effort in a dying platform. By the time they got it out and stable most people would have moved on from the platform.

I asked around compatibility of the clients with handsets. There are minimum requirements. In the Blackberry arena the software was tested on the Curve and Bold platforms. Changes in the OS have caused compatibility problems with some of the newer devices that still has to be worked out. The very popular 8520 (baby Blackberry) only has a slower processor and lower resolution screen is unlikely to work with the software. If when released the software runs on the Curve, Bold and Torch then it will cover most of the newer devices. I hope not too many 8520 users will be disappointed, but it was to be expected.

The Android front is a whole lot more complicated. As with the iPhone, they are concerned about rooted devices and those with video out. Licensing doesn’t allow the signal to be output unrestricted to big screens. This is a mobile service. This means as with iPhone if you have a rooted (jailbroken) device / custom rom you may not be able to use the software. We didn’t go into detail about how this will be enforced, but as with the iPhone environment, I am sure there will be hacked software soon enough.

Given the vast number of devices, and that a lot of the newer cheaper devices are having smaller screens and weaker processors, it will not be possible for the client to run on every Android device out there. If we had to wait for that level of compatibility we would never see the application.

The software will be available through the Android market place. DStv plan to make use of a device whitelisting system, when a user launches the application it will check with the white listing server to see if the device is compatible.  It will initially be available for a handful of Samsung devices (Samsung were kind enough to give DStv significant support in debugging issues), and then additional devices and suppliers will be added to the list as testing and development increases the scope of compatibility. This is sure to disappoint some users out there (myself included as an HTC user) but just seeing the application out there and in use will be a really good start. Once that list of supported devices grows we will get even happier.

The release date for Blackberry I won’t hazard a guess at, and given the discussion around it I didn’t ask. No point raising those expectations again until there is something to see.

The Android application is not far off. We have heard vague and non-committal dates being thrown around after all those missed deadlines (and I explained above why they are so sensitive). A target date was mentioned to me, which I have agreed not to disclose. If they manage to hit that date, a few of the Samsung Android users (on the whitelist) will have an early Christmas present and be smiling. From the conversation, I am confident that as a HTC user I will also be able to use my Drifta as was intended within a reasonable timeframe.

We spoke also a little around technical support, and it was mentioned that DStv mobile are looking to enhance their online experience for customers to improve support. Improvements are always  good thing.

In terms of improvements to software, full screen and jailbroken iDevices isn’t allowed with licensing so we moved onto other ideas. A Drifta with a LCD screen may be a bit expensive, so how about putting a headphone jack on it and letting it be used as a digital radio. May not be much use for some of the channels, but for sport and music this would be great. Often the game isn’t on radio and listening to it on the Drifta could fill that gap. I asked also about an audio only client for lower specced devices that wouldn’t be able to display the pictue (that 8520 and some lower class Android devices come to mind). While these are nice ideas none can really be implemented short-term (my thought, not theirs) as the focus is on delivering the promised client applications first.

Ideas for improvements for the PC software:

  • Searchable programme guide
  • Reminders for upcoming shows
  • Ability to pause (to get that beer from the fridge while not missing the game, or to take an important call)
  • Setting (off by default) the call on startup of the app that currently checks if you have elected to participate in the useage monitoring programme (I personally take offense to having my uniquely identifiable information sent to the central server without permission – but then I did sign up for the programme when it was explained to me)
  • Setting (off by default) as to whether the software should check for updates (mobile data can be expensive)

I was asked my impression of the programming, I mainly watch sports and the news channels. I am fine with the allocation. The “cut down” mobile versions of channels was mentioned and Maiyo pointed out to me that for Cartoon Network they have quietly replaced the gimped one with the linear direct-to-home DStv version (the full version). I missed that along the way, big up to DStv for listening to their clients and sorting that out. I think they could have made a bit of a bigger deal about that and taken more credit for it. E! Entertainment continues to play a block of content that is repeated periodically.  Mnet Series is largely the same as the DTH channel, where licences have not been granted for certain programming, substitute programming will be scheduled.

The recurring theme through the discussions was how to communicate better with the customers, providing more transparency and information, while managing expectations to try to avoid consumer rage. We bounced around some ideas, and I hope that will lead to more information being made available, at a minimum details of what older devices/platforms will definitely NOT be supported, and possibly even minimum technical specifications (per platform) of what would be required in order to at least have a chance of the client working. Consumers would need to be careful not to misinterpret such information as a promise to have it working on those platforms. Still, this would help significantly in making decisions for next handsets.  I mentioned how frustrated I was having been through two phone upgrades between January and June and having no information on which to base a decision. They get this, just need work out how to sensibly release such information.

I was asked around the volume of traffic to this site. For those interested it is currently between 300 and 500 article impressions a day, and about 70% of that traffic relates DStv mobile, the next largest are those looking for details on Cellular service providers’ (Vodacom) compliance (or not as the case may be) with the Consumer Protection Act. Is running the site a full-time job? No, I have a real job. The advertising here brings in around R180/month currently, with that split between revenue for views and for clicks. A click pays anything from 40c to R12 (averaging R3.57), and advert views range from 0c (yes zero) to around 24c/thousand views. All that is highly variable and not enough to even buy me an iPad.

Finally we spoke around me getting added to the media list for press releases so I can keep the information on the site and updated, and possibly getting information just ahead of product and client releases so I can help spread the word and provide support to you, the community.

A very positive meeting, and I think DStv mobile, Maiyo, Bradley and Neil for inviting me to your offices, giving freely of your time and trusting me enough to show me what you are working so hard at delivering. I look forward to further interactions, and a growing community as you roll out the next versions of your client software and products.

If you have questions you would like answered let me know and I will see if I can get answers from Maiyo.

Disclaimer : DStv Mobile have not edited or unduly influenced this article in any way. The team was kind enough to show me a lot of what they are doing and give me honest answers to a lot of questions. In the vein of under promise and over deliver they did ask me not to reveal certain information. Out of respect to them I did send them a pre-release version of this article and on request some minor amendments were made (by me) to avoid creating unrealistic expectations. If this does happen, blame me for over enthusiasm and not the DStv mobile team 🙂 

P.S. After the fact I did post two additional questions to Maiyo. During the discussion we spoke briefly about Windows Mobile 7, however I did not explicitly ask if they were going to be developing for this platform. I asked for clarification on this. We also spoke a bit around what the minimum specifications might be for supported devices (across Nokia, Android, Blackberry) and whether these could be released. Not so much as to tell you your device would be supported, but so that you could know which devices just definitely wouldn’t make the grade. Useful when buying your next phone. They had not explicitly documented these specs, and they could also vary per platform. I have asked if this information could be documented and shared. The team was a little reluctant as they were concerned people may misinterpret this as an undertaking to develop for ALL devices which met these specifications, which clearly is unrealistic. I have asked if they might share these minimum specs, subject  to proviso’s sure, but some information is better than none. Will keep you posted.

Update : The Android version has now been released, read more here

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Categories: Apple Mac, Fun things to do, Gadgets, Mobile

26 Responses

  1. mohamed:

    hi justin. Do you have any news on the drifta software for the samung 10.1.

    24.12.2011 19:38 Reply

    • Justin:

      Sorry Mohamed no news on when there will be software for any of the Android 3 or 4 devices.

      25.12.2011 08:54 Reply

  2. Marc:

    “So, by the sounds of it my HTC Desire HD will have to wait ….. How about my Galaxy Tab P1000, think that will be whitelisted?”

    Now works on both my devices (Oh … and of course my Notebook)

    I’m a happy man!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    12.09.2011 17:01 Reply

    • Justin:

      Glad it has worked out well for you. DStv mobile need some positive feedback. They seem to be getting slated every turn they make at the moment. I’m lucky enough to have it working on my HTC Desire, my laptop and next week my iPod is getting upgraded to a Touch so then I will be smiling too.

      12.09.2011 18:28 Reply

  3. Guest review : Using the Nokia DVB-H adapter with the E7 | j-j.co.za:

    […] = 'jjza';Johan posted this fairly lengthy comment in response to my post “A most interesting hour with DStv mobile team” . It makes good reading and deserves better exposure than languishing within the comments, so […]

    11.09.2011 15:15 Reply

  4. Johan:

    I am using the Nokia DVB-H adaptor with my E7 and must say I am really happy just carrying 1 device with the benefit of “using” Internet on the device (when you swithch from the mobile TV app it does stop, but downloads are not interupped in the background when watching DSTV). For all Nokia’s “faults”, true multitasking and excellent hardware have kept me on the platform. My N900 did unfortunately pack up, but the E7 has been a worthy replacement (for me at least).

    The wifi drifta is however a more “versatile” device. Can now use it with PC, iOS, “android” and hopefully soon OSX (althoug only one device at a time).

    In terms of the Nokia Mobile TV software… Nice things are REMINDERS (only for the next 18 hours for ehich the EPG is displayed for). The reminder pops up even if you do not have the dvb-h headset connected. 1 click and you can watch (if you connect headset).

    My main gripes are (mostly nokia specific – don’t have a drifta)
    1) E7 can only be charged via USB, but the dvb-h adaptor takes that spot. But I have watched about 4.5 hours on a full charge. N8 can be used longer (has older charger plug) but the “popup” screen of the E7 does make it easier to view…
    2) You HAVE to “subscribe” via 3G / Wifi EVERY month (only takes 5 mins, but it is a pain)
    3) SuperSport 4 just does NOT want to work. Says loading but nothing. Will have to subscribe in 4 days time, so hopefully that will fix it… Else will have to contact customer “support” 🙁
    4) Could for the life of me not get it to work in Strand, Stellenbosch, Blauwberg, SomersetWest end last month. Just keps saying no signal… But when I landed back in Gauteng worked instantly…

    But overall I think it is a great service (yes “better” channels would be nice, but R36 per month for SS1 and SS2 “always” with you

    10.09.2011 09:27 Reply

    • Justin:

      Great feedback about the DVB-H adaptors with mobile phones. I haven’t had the opportunity to play with one so it is really useful feedback.

      10.09.2011 14:52 Reply

  5. Gavin:

    Interesting chat that must have been J. Still a little surprised there was such a delay considering the security is very weak and easily overcome. The only issue I have is that my PC decoder now doesn’t work since the firmware update. Props to Maiyo – she answered pretty quickly that the issue seems unusual and will ask next week.

    09.09.2011 21:08 Reply

    • Justin:

      Hi Gavin, good to see you on here 🙂

      The team at DStv Mobile was very friendly and open. Maiyo answers questions quickly and they are trying to do their best. A smallish team running the business as a start-up. I haven’t tried my PC software after the firmware upgrade, must give that a go. I was interested to see that the whole firmware resides inside the Android app, which is what makes the darn thing so big. Would be better if they split the app into two and had a separate updater.

      Will try the stuff out in the morning see what is working and not this side.


      09.09.2011 22:11 Reply

    • Justin:

      Hi Gavin
      Tried mine with the PC after the update and it works perfectly. What is the issue that you are experiencing ?


      10.09.2011 14:56 Reply

  6. David:

    Yup, it needs internet connection for softwrae to authenticate.

    06.09.2011 08:50 Reply

    • Justin:

      Ok, cool, that is probably why only the 3G connected version of the Tab is supported then.

      06.09.2011 09:02 Reply

  7. Werner:

    For some reason it does not want to work on my P7500 Galaxy tab ? Do you know if they still working on it ?
    Thanks guys

    06.09.2011 08:35 Reply

    • Justin:

      Hi Werner
      Currently only the Samsung Galaxy Tab (GT-P1000) is listed as being compatible. They are working on increasing the number of devices but no information is currently available on when other devices will be added. I am hoping more will be added soon as my HTC Desire is not supported yet either.

      06.09.2011 08:40 Reply

  8. Drifta client for Android released | j-j.co.za:

    […] in detail with the DStv guys, know where they are coming from too. Read some more about that over here (A most interesting hour with the DStv mobile […]

    06.09.2011 07:58 Reply

  9. David:

    I’m using the Samsung Galaxy tab. What is a bit annoying is the fact that the software wants to authenticate every time it is opened. Not that I’m complaining though 🙂

    06.09.2011 07:54 Reply

    • Justin:

      David, does that mean you have to be connected to the Internet otherwise it won’t work?

      06.09.2011 08:10 Reply

  10. David:

    Good day to Samsung/Android users. VERY GOOD NEWS! I’ve downloaded the Drifta software this morning from the Android market and it works beautifully! Thanks to all involved to get it working before Rugby Wolrd cup starts on Friday!

    06.09.2011 07:27 Reply

    • Justin:

      Thanks for the heads up David, and for the feedback. Much appreciated, keep us posted on your experiences. Which device are you using it on ?

      06.09.2011 07:41 Reply

  11. KB:

    How about releasing the Android Software for WC as is and as a beta with a disclaimer. Would also make for the best user testing. As for output to big screen – Come on with such low resolution?

    05.09.2011 11:55 Reply

    • Justin:

      Hi Kobus, the dstv guys are desperately trying to keep us happy and do the right thing. Hold thumbs. As for resolution, yes the picture is low but there is also the user interface and we can’t expect them to write many different versions. Right know we just have to wait and hope that we are happy soon. Justin.

      05.09.2011 14:36 Reply

  12. Dave:

    Great, informative piece. Nice. Glad I moved from bb to iPhone when I did. The RWC is a major reason I bought the Drifta, and I’d hate to be restricted to PC and iPad watching only. Drifta is a great product, I hope they get it right on all the popular handsets. This article gives some insight into the challenges of this project, good luck to them.

    03.09.2011 08:18 Reply

    • Justin:

      Thanks. I am a bit sad I didn’t go the iphone route because of the Drifta, in all other respects I am happy with my Android / Blackberry combination. Will see how things go with the WC and am seriously considering getting an iPod touch. My iPod classic was stolen recently, insurance should be covering it but are taking their sweet time. See a flurry of phone calls early next week 🙂

      03.09.2011 08:46 Reply

  13. Marc:

    Great article ….. Best information yet I could find.
    By ‘early Christmas present’, do you mean watching 1. The RWC kick-off match, 2. The RWC Final, or 3. xmas corols on 24 Dec??? 🙂
    So, by the sounds of it my HTC Desire HD will have to wait ….. How about my Galaxy Tab P1000, think that will be whitelisted?

    02.09.2011 13:39 Reply

    • Justin:

      Lol, sadly I can’t comment on the date, though I hope we are both pleasantly surprised, I know they would love to get it to us as soon as possible but there is testing etc which must be completed first. The Desire yes you will have to wait, HTC is towards the top of vendors to be supported. I have the HTC Desire (non HD) so am in the same boat as you. Not sure how long after the Samsung devices are supported the HTC support will come. Hopefully soon. The Galaxy Tab will be supported, though I wonder (now that you ask specifically on that one) how it will do the whitelist call to the server if it is connecting via wifi to the Drifta since you cant be connected to the Internet and to the Drifta at the same time.

      02.09.2011 17:48 Reply

  14. Drifta client 1.3.1 released : Includes Mac OS X client? | j-j.co.za:

    […] Update 2 : I have seen and played with the OS X version. It is real, it is coming soon  Little more info here : http://j-j.co.za/2011/09/a-most-interesting-hour-with-the-dstv-mobile-team/ […]

    01.09.2011 22:48 Reply

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