Wednesday, March 9, 2011

iOS 4.3: AirPlay brings media apps to the big screen

This is the first of several posts on the changes to be found in iOS 4.3 that may effect media companies developing apps for Apple devices.

The feature I have most anticipated in Apple update to its mobile operating system is changes to AirPlay. AirPlay allows apps to stream photos, audio and video to Apple TVs.
Prior to today's iOS update, the only apps that could take advantage of AirPlay were a limited number of Apple apps such as the iPod and Photos. But even these apps didn't always offer full AirPlay access. For instance, if you shot some video using your iPhone 4 the video would go into your Photos folder where you could view it on your phone. But while the old OS allowed users to stream their photos to their Apple TV to be viewed on their HDTVs, the videos had to be moved out of the Photos folder and put into the Videos folder before they could be streamed. It was odd and annoying -- it was also, some speculate, simply the result of the developers running out of time before the last iOS update was issued.

But now, with the iOS 4.3 update, that same video does not need to be moved and can be streamed right away, making the feature 100 percent more user friendly.

But the most exciting changes, at least for media properties, are that now any app or website can stream its video content. But before this can happen media properties will have to add a tag to their video content and some apps will have to be updated.
As I mentioned late Monday afternoon (see the end of the post), Air Video became one of the first apps updated to accommodate the iOS change.

Air Video allows users to stream the movies on their computer hard drives to their iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. The user simply downloads the Air Video app for their iOS device ($2.99) and then they download the "server" software from the Air Video website (free).

The set-up is easy enough, about the only thing you need to do is show the server software where to find the movies, preferably kept in one folder, but multiple locations are allowed. It's easy and users have always been big fans of the software.

Now they are positively giddy. What's new is that once their iOS apps are updated, and new server is downloaded and installed now those movies can be steamed to your HDTV via your iOS device.

Now admittedly this is simply a lazy man's way to watch movies without burning them to DVD, but it works and it is a sign of what is to come from other developers. I expect that some of the quicker to adapt media firms (no names, but you know who they are) to quickly figure out that by adding the proper tag to their video content their readers will now be able to watch the videos found on their website and inside their apps through Apple TV.

Many might see change as minor change to iOS. I know that when Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced in 2008 that the iPhone would now be open to third party apps many overlooked what a monumental shift this would be. Think of it, in June of 2008, when what was then called iPhone 2.0 was announced, there were exactly zero media apps for either mobile media or tablets (of course, the iPad was still a ways away).
The original New York Times iPhone app was announced on July 11, 2008: "In honor of iPhone devotees like David Pogue, we’ve released the NYTimes iPhone Application, available for free at the iPhone App Store," read the blog announcement. That first app is not too different from the app used today, though today's NYT app contains much, much more content.

I doubt that iOS 4.3 will have the same impact as that 2.0 update, no way. But the expanded use of AirPlay may prove bigger than many people realize. Audio/Video companies like JBL, Pioneer and Philips, for instance, have just announced that they will release new products that are AirPlay compatible. The idea is, at least from Apple's perspective, that if you develop your media apps for the iOS platform and ecosystem you will have allow those products to be read, heard, and seen everywhere and on many devices -- including your home stereo and HDTV.