I Don’t Typically Do This

by Martin Gordon

H.264 / WebM and iOS vs. Android

I’ve been thinking about Google’s recent decision to pull H.264 support from Chrome in favor of their own WebM codec. Since Apple is the #1 proponent of H.264, many are claiming that Google’s reasoning for doing this is that it gives them a competitive advantage against Apple in the mobile space.

In order for Google to realize that advantage, however, several things need to happen:

  1. WebM hardware decoders need to be made available. Decoders have been announced, but no one is shipping one yet.
  2. Android phone manufacturers need to integrate the chip into their phone. Assuming they replace the H.264 decoder with the WebM decoder, Android phones will no longer support H.264. In addition,
  3. Major content providers, including YouTube, Amazon and Netflix, will need to make their libraries available in WebM. If not, Adobe will need to have Flash ready to decode H.264 in a way that respects frame rates and battery life.
  4. Manufacturers of cameras that record in H.264 will need to integrate WebM encoders into their cameras or provide software that will convert H.264 to WebM.

If all these things take place and Apple decides to not support WebM at all, only then Android will have a competitive advantage over iOS when it comes to playback of web video.

In the meantime though, WebM’s uncertain patent situation will actually put Android manufacturers at a disadvantage since instead of facing the same infringement risk as Apple, providing WebM decoders actually increases their infringement risk. Unfortunately for them, “being more ‘open’” is not a valid legal defense.