Boxee's TV app venturing out of the living room and onto iPhone and iPad
NEW YORK -- In the next few months, you'll be able to take Boxee, the software designed to marry television with online video, to the bathroom, the bedroom and the park. Boxee is working on versions of its application for the iPhone and iPad, with one for Google's Android also on the schedule.
Development has already begun on the iPad app. The New York company recently posted a job opening for a lead developer on software for Apple's mobile operating systems, as the Engadget blog pointed out on Thursday.
Boxee currently has an iPhone app, which interfaces with the computer software as a remote control. The upcoming program would allow the more than a million users of the free service to stream video on-the-go.
Several iPads are lying around the start-up's fifth-floor office near Union Square in Manhattan. Boxee Chief Executive Avner Ronen excitedly discussed the potential for the iPad -- rather, large-screen tablet computers in general, as he's also excited about some prototype Android touch-screen computers he's seen this year.
"It's perfect for video," Ronen said before loading a TV show on ABC's iPad app. "You can start watching in bed. And then just take it with you."
The company had other priorities in mind before expanding its list of supported operating systems beyond Mac, Windows, Linux and Apple TV. Ronen hopes to find more content partners, add better social features and roll out a centralized payment platform to be leveraged by developers. Mobile apps were further down on that list, he said.
"Having the iPad in our hands bumped up that priority," Ronen said. Evaluating his own usage habits in the last week or so with the iPad, Ronen says he uses it most in the living room, second-most in bed and, yes, in the bathroom.
By design, Boxee is meant for the living room -- to be installed on a computer or laptop, and connected to a TV. The shift to mobile apps is a philosophy change for the company. And one that requires a major transformation in how the Boxee software will present content.
In the desktop version, Boxee aggregates video from YouTube, Hulu and the major TV networks' video sites. When pointing to a video, it acts as a browser rather than hosting the video itself. But neither the iPhone nor the iPad support Flash, the plug-in that powers most online video. Apple has no plans to partner with Adobe.
So, instead of aggregating, Boxee is going directly to the networks in order to tap into their content. "We have good relationships now with most of the studios," Ronen said.
One studio that Boxee does not have a strong relationship with is NBC. During NBC Universal's February hearings regarding the merger with Comcast, NBC Chief Executive Jeff Zucker demonstrated no kind feelings toward Boxee. Responding to a question about why Hulu blocked Boxee from displaying its content, Zucker said Boxee was "illegally taking the content that was on Hulu without any business deal."
Hulu is believed to be working on an iPad app. About 75% of digital companies in the U.S. say they are actively pursuing a strategy for video on the iPad, according to a recent survey of more than 200 marketing execs by KIT Digital.
Boxee may beat Hulu to the race. "We're going to try to get something very basic very quickly out there," Ronen said.
-- Mark Milian
Photo: Boxee CEO Avner Ronen watches a video on his iPad on the couch in the company's New York office. Credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times