How Apple Impacts Video Surveillance

By: John Honovich, Published on Sep 03, 2008

Apple's interest in video surveillance is generating significant interest. This report examines the key areas where Apple will (and will not) impact the video surveillance industry.

Key Impact - iPhone/iPod touch

The Apple iPhone (and iPod touch) will finally make mobile video surveillance a major element of video surveillance, improving security operations and helping to reduce crime.  For a number of years, video surveillance vendors have touted mobile video despite minimal practical applications.  The Apple iPhone will overcome the technical and logistical problems that undermined earlier efforts of video surveillance companies to deploy mobile monitoring.

[Update Jan 2011 - We have tested the iPhone and iPad using video surveillance application.]

Background

Apple and videoNEXT co-hosted a panel at ASIS driving speculation on Apple's involvement in video surveillance has become intense.

Disclaimer: this report is my personal observations based on no private knowledge of Apple's plan.

Overview of Apple's Benefits

Today, two Apple products have potential use to video surveillance systems: the Xserve and the iPhone [link no longer available]. 

The Xserve is Apple's high end server that can be used for running IP video surveillance software (for instance, VideoNext has announced support for the Xserve).  However, Apple's servers do not offer breakthrough benefits for video surveillance plus most video surveillance software is not developed to run on the Apple OS. Nonetheless, for those software providers that do run on the Apple OS, expect this to be a key benefit in growing segments such as the education market.

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The iPhone is essentially a phone/portable PC that can run 3rd party applications like video surveillance client software (the iPhone touch is fundamentally the iPhone without phone/3G service). For instance, videoNEXT will be announcing their iPhone application in the coming weeks.

That being said, I see no reason why Apple would buy video surveillance companies. Unlike Cisco, Apple has not historically bought companies to build broad product portfolios. Apple generally develops internally while acquiring strategic technologies to support their products.

Apple looks to benefit from video surveillance by driving adoption of their core products (such as Xserve and the iPhone) through the use of video surveillance applictions that are processor and bandwidth intensive.

Traditional Mobile Video Surveillance

Mobile video surveillance offers significant value for security operations:

  1. Being at a PC is not ideal for general monitoring: Most security monitors (despite stereotypes) have many responsibilities that require them to multi-task and frequently be away from a desk/PC.
  2. Responding requires security to be away from a PC: Intercepting real-time threats requires security operators to be moving towards the suspect.

Both of these points are well understood and have been the motivation for years to make surveillance more mobile.

Nonetheless, mobile video surveillance for PDAs and phones have been quite limited.  In fact, relative to the amount of vendor promotion, it always surprises me how little use there actually is.

In my experience and that of other integrators, it has been the practical issues involved that have undermined the use of mobile video surveillance.  Issues such as:

  • Difficulties in determining what devices to run the software on
  • Difficulties in loading/updating software on the PDA/phone
  • Difficulties in using software on the PDA/phone
  • Problems in providing bandwidth coverage
  • Need to have a phone and a secondary device dedicated to mobile surveillance

Apple iPhone Advantages for Mobile Surveillance

The iPhone offers 2 fundamental advantages over traditional devices for mobile video surveillance:

  1. A vastly easier to use and more powerful phone
  2. Their AppStore makes adding and updating third party applications easy

The general benefits of the iPhone are well discussed [link no longer available].  Specific elements that are critical to video surveillance are 3G wireless (for receiving video streams without depending on wifi) and the iPhone's superior abilities to display video and 3d graphics.  A potentially lesser appreciated feature is the built-in GPS locator that could provide significant benefits in helping responders locate where they are relative to the video they are viewing.

The AppStore is particularly important.  AppStore makes it simple for users to simply access, install and upgrade new applications.  This is especially valuable when contrasted to the traditional business model of mobile phone providers. In the traditional model, providers sought to limit and lock down what applications could be loaded on their phones. This made distributing and using 3rd party applications (like video monitoring client software) especially tricky.

The AppStore looks to make installing video surveillance clients as simply as downloading a song from iTunes.  This will make a major difference in the uptake of mobile surveillance.

Technicals Challenges for iPhone Development

A number of meaninful challenges exist for iPhone development. (This section is technical, skip to the conclusion if you prefer).

The fundamental issues are:

  • Most video surveillance software development is done using Microsoft's .NET framework, essentially incompatible with MAC OS X (this impact is quite significant on the server side but is only mildly problematic when developing client apps for the iPhone)
  • iPhone deveopment requires the use of a language Objective C and development environment different from 'normal' video surveillance tools (C#/Visual Studio or Java/Eclipse).
  • Many video surveillance companies use ActiveX controls to stream/display video in client software. iPhones do not support them.
  • You can only develop for iPhone apps on Macs (a problem if you are using Visual Studio running on a PC for .NET development)

None of these are truly deal-breakers for a moden video surveillance software company.  However, it will take time and a commitment of resources for many to make this happen.  Some companies will move quicker (for instance VideoNext does significant programming in C so this makes the transition easier).

Conclusion

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