Apple's admittedly cool video-tossing technology AirPlay got a viral burst yesterday when legendary tech geek Robert Scoble raved that "AirPlay is the Most Important New Protocol Since RSS." Of course, AirPlay is the iOS feature that lets iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad users transfer a video they are watching on these devices to the TV screen via an Apple TV box. When Apple first introduced the technology last year, it had limited use, since only a few native Apple apps had the capability and the full video file itself had to be on the device. The recent iOS updates widened the scope of AirPlay to include third-party apps. At his Scobleizer blog and Business Insider, Scoble brought us into his living room to show off how a video aggregation app like ShowYou or the video series TED now can be shared on your TV straight from the iPad.
Scoble argues that this changes everything. While set top devices like Xbox, Google TV or even Apple TV can find videos on your hard drive or on YouTube to show, the process of finding the one you wanted to show everyone was just too tortuous to bother with. Scoble contends that just as RSS changed reading behaviors by pulling such a vast range of content to the user so easily, AirPlay paired with the right third party apps allows for similar video aggregation and consumption. In the "Age of AirPlay," Apple's killer feature will help sell its hockey puck-sized streaming media device.
I tend to see more of the limitations of Airplay than Scoble. It is a nice feature for those who do own the iOS+Apple TV combo but I find it hard to believe the feature is enough to sell units. Tech dweebs like us may have all of these toys at hand, but unless Apple starts licensing the AirPlay feature to other set top boxes, TVs, BD-players, etc. it seems unlikely to achieve tremendous scale. Apple announced it had sold about a million of the Apple TV 2.0 units several months after launch but we haven't heard any stats since. I am not holding my breath for Apple to license anything to other living room OEMs.
I do agree that video aggregation via AirPlay maps well against the other iPad habits we have been seeing evolve in the last year. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, a lot of iPad owners seem to be time-shifting content consumption to their prime time session with the tablet. This certainly has tremendous potential for Web video. Think of all of the interesting videos you come across each day that are too long or ill-timed to merit your attention during the flow of the workday. What if all of those things could be pushed over to your iPad app for later viewing on the device or tossed onto the big screen?That would be a game changer, because ultimately technologies themselves do not create new markets so much as the habits people develop with the technological tools they are given.