Qik is one of the greatest mobile internet applications I know. You just start the software on a Nokia N95, and yet you are broadcasting live video to everyone over the internet. Have a look at my company's Qik stream at Mogulus if you want to see the next transmission.
I immediately thought that this kind of live video broadcast is the last feature that's missing on Nokia's social platform Ovi. There you can already share photos, videos, comments and blog entries in more than 100 file formats. "We support nearly every existing file format”, said Serena Glover, Director Service Operations, Connect New Experiences at Nokia and ex CEO of Twango in an interview with me at the Mobile World Congress 2008 in Barcelona. But Ovi always keeps you waiting for your friends to upload a new video. You can't just tune when it's still being filmed. It feels more like Blockbuster video than real television. Unlike Qik, which lets you broadcast and see events while they are still happening.
"Absolutely! Qik should be a part of Ovi", therefore said Qik's VP Marketing and co-founder Bhaskar Roy when we talked in Barcelona. He also related how venture capitalists are competing to do his company's second round of funding. Our chat was very interesting and insightful. Who had thought that this Silicon Valley company is mostly based in Russia? While India born Bhaskar and his friend Ramu Sunkara run Qik together with some other Stanford graduates from the Californian city of Santa Clara, most of their employees live and work in Moscow. Nilolay Abkairov, who was a former speech codec developer for Skype mobile, and his team are busily porting Qik to all smartphone platforms.
His friend Alexi handles the video streaming issues, which make use of quite nifty technologies: The handset shoots the video as MPEG4 and immediately streams it as H.263 over a 3G or Wifi connection to Qik's server. There it's being transcoded into Flash for Qik's website or into a Realvideo stream for mobile handsets. "Qik is developing a new live streaming to other mobile handsets”, says Bhaskar. "You won't even need a browser to watch a livestream. We send a Realvideo stream directly to your friends' cell phones."
So soon the cell phone will not only be a camera but also a tv set. Everyone is a sender and a receiver at the same time – if he has the right handset. "Qik works on all S60 platforms and a version for UIQ is in development”, says Bhaskar. "A version for Windows Mobile will be launched soon.” Their aim is to make Qik work on every possible camera phone. That's why the team in Santa Clara is also developing a Java client for cheaper handsets. They even tested Qik successfully on phones with just 100 Megahertz CPU and only an EDGE connection to the mobile internet. "Qik consist of a layer that's different for every platform and a platform independent layer”, explains Bhaskar. "That's why it takes only some weeks to port Qik to a new platform."
So while the future looks technologically bright for Qik, I asked Bhaskar how his company wants to earn money. Until now the service is free and Nokia hasn't made an offer yet. "In this year we will only concentrate on consumer acquisition”, is his answer. Advertising on Qik's website would be easy to implement, like Google does it on Youtube. Also companies could sponsor certain channels on the website. "We could also offer value added services for very cheap prices like $1 per month", says Bhaskar. As an example for a premium service he mentions privacy. Until now every video appears directly on Qik's starting page as soon as you activate the camera. Every stranger can see it until you switch off or hit the "0” key.