There are other niceties in this update, like support for TV rentals and playlist creation in iTunes, better control over privacy and location awareness, and better alert-notifications. But the feature everyone is falling all over themselves about is the AirPlay interactions with an Apple TV. It pretty much works as advertised. When playing video that is stored on your iPad or iPhone, an additional icon shows up on the player, allowing you to throw the video over to your Apple TV. There is a lag of a few seconds and the video simply appears on the screen. As with many Apple things, the magic is in the simplicity. Cool.
But what are the use cases? First, you need an iPad/iPhone/iPod and an Apple TV, which winnows down the field considerably. Second, the operation works only one way. I can start watching a video on the device and kick it over to the TV. But I can't start watching an Apple TV film or TV show and kick it over to the iPad. Winnow down the usability even further. It is also unclear to me whether the AirPlay function is designed to support app-based video streaming. I tried AirPlaying video that was coming into apps or streaming into the iTunes store, but only the audio track went to the TV. While I can send to the TV photos from my iPhone (which is very nice) I couldn't even send videos I had made with the phone to the big screen. Sharing personal media on the big screen is a problem worth solving, I think, and where AirPlay may have its biggest appeal. At least for now, AirPlay only seems to work with media of a particular type that is actually stored on your iPad or iPhone.
But most apps are not downloading media directly to the device. Will ABC be able to rewrite its Player app so I can stream and send that time-shifted episode to my Apple TV? Would the company even want to? I get the episode for free on its player app, but pay 99 cents to rent it currently on Apple TV.
That sound you hear is business models colliding. This is the point where the Ghostbusters ray guns cross the ion streams and form a hole in the universe. My head hurts already. Doesn't it make more sense if all of this media sits in the cloud, a la Netflix's Watch Instantly? If iTunes already knows what I bought or rented, couldn't it just synchronize and send them to whatever device I wanted? I am not sure AirPlay is the best model for what Apple is trying to achieve. The much more likely scenario is that I rent a film or TV show on Apple TV and need to finish it sometime the next day before the viewing window closes.
So yeah, I will be playing with AirPlay over the break, hoping to find a place in my life where it fits in. Conceivably, I could see a scenario where a TV network app could let you AirPlay a video of a time-shifted episode to your TV and then let you interact with a complementary app that is synched to the show itself.
As we veer into the holiday season, there are just a few more odds and ends on the banquet table worth tasting. Verizon is giving us a big tease by launching an ad campaign around its LTE 4G launch. "Lightning Fast, Lightning Strong" is the tag line as a farm lad tosses a lightning javelin into the air. Well, well, well. This plan better work out well for them or that javelin will make a fun parody target for critics.
They also have a short video up of a 4G demo in Boston. The demo is never really explained, so it is hard to tell what the LTE network is outperforming. But Verizon captured a lot of astonished reactions in what approaches a self-parody.
And speaking of parody. Calling a "year of mobile" is a dumb exercise on the face of it, but if the lords of hype really need one, then 2010 is close enough. Even if investment in mobile both on the advertising and media sides are still scant compared to other media, this was the year when the definition of mobile expanded well beyond handsets and the central importance of "mobility" took on the air of inevitability. But, the real tip-off that mobile has arrived is this. Angry Birds is now so familiar to so many people around the world it has spawned a superb satire piece from an Israeli comedy show. The Angry Birds Peace Treaty video is spot-on as a French negotiator tries to broker a treaty between birds and pigs. Hard feelings persist on both sides, of course, and peace is elusive. Best line of all speaks to the deep-seated resentment of one of the pig team: "I wish my father was here to witness this. He was killed on Level 9 of the free version."
"A fight you guys started," the birds respond.
Peace in our time was so close.
Angry Birds is the Tetris of the smartphone app platform. We have arrived.