Commentary

Waiting To Throw: Airplay Still Waiting To Take Flight

“You broke YouTube.”

“I didn’t break YouTube,“ I said as my wife and I watched the little swirling thingy buffer an AirPlay video on Apple TV.

“Well, you were the last one to touch it, and now it’s not working. If you didn’t break it, then who did?“

I am trying to show my wife some of the video found objects I had collected on YouTube’s Watch Later personal channel in my account. As a new NPD Group study suggests, using the iOS AirPlay feature was really more of an afterthought from trying to show her these videos on my iPad. After a few clips I realized we could all see them better on the big screen, so I went to the bother (yes, it’s a bother) of changing the TV inputs to start Apple TV and send videos to the big screen.

“You broke YouTube.”

“I didn’t…” Oh well, we’ve been here.

The WiFi technologies upon which AirPlay depends have always been a problem. At least they have been in my house. Whether it's trying to play dual-screen games or getting a video to play all the way through without buffering, AirPlay usually ends up being more bother than it's worth. In the case of the “broken YouTube,” it is easier in the end just to invoke the formal YouTube app on Apple TV and access my Watch Later videos there. No buffering, no waiting.

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About six months ago, a handful of people in the mobile field were tossing around the term “media throwing” as the next big thing. As some Android devices, Google TV, and Samsung started playing with their own versions of the AirPlay dynamic, there was a lot of hope around this notion of seamlessly moving one’s own media across multiple screens in a kind of virtual throw.

But according to NPD, many more people have heard of this capability and have tried it. In the research company’s latest survey on screen-mirroring technologies, it found that 40% of smartphone and tablet owners are aware of the throw technology. And yet only 7% have used it. Apple's AirPlay has the highest level of awareness by far, but even that is less than 25% of smartphone and tablet owners. Samsung has a technology they call AllShare, and Xbox has its SmartGlass, both of which are in the mid-to-low teens in awareness.

Among that very small share of mobile device owners actually using mirroring technology, showing videos is far and away the most popular activity, followed by showing photos. The basic scenario of throwing is media sharing but in a live context. Theoretically, it makes a lot of sense, and one can see it serving the same contemporary function as the age-old form of suburban dinner party torture, the after-dinner slide show.

NPD suggests that it is the newness of the technology that is getting in the way. And to be sure, screen mirroring depends upon developing a new media reflex that only comes with time. Just as it took time for people to realize they not only could take pictures with their cell phones but could share them immediately, making the connection between a tablet and smartphone and a TV does not come naturally. For instance, in my household it took a few beats and a few videos viewed on my tablet before I even remembered that I have had this AirPlay technology for years.

Having the ability to move one’s media freely and seamlessly across one’s own screens is part of the liberating dynamic of mobility. Any technology that helps further the cause of on shackling the user from specific screens is welcome. And one of the more intriguing byproducts of a multiscreen personal media universe is that everyone becomes a programmer.

These are all interesting technologies because they help introduce new patterns of media consumption and shift the power to the consumer in a range of new ways. In a world where the consumer collects and parses media across screens, the marketer is forced to look beyond interrupting the flow, because as the process of media consumption becomes more personalized and thus more personal, the consumer could well come to resent interruptions even more than they once did.

But the inadequacies of the technology itself drove me toward a better alternative that in many ways could supersede screen mirroring before we even learn the new habit. The two key activities for which we use these technologies -- showing video and showing photos -- really don’t require two-screen coordination as long as all of that material is kept in the cloud. For instance, I reverted to the Apple TV YouTube app when the AirPlay buffering was driving us mad because all of the same Watch Later material was in my account there.

Likewise, if I keep all of my smartphone photos in the Photo Stream in the cloud, I don’t really need to throw anything from my phone. The use case for now actually makes more sense when people outside the closest immediate family Circle want to share media on someone else’s screen.

But in my case -- and I think in many people’s cases for the time being -- the cloud is the better answer.

“Look, honey -- I fixed YouTube for you.“

And all I get for saving hundreds of millions of users from losing their favorite video hub is a patronizing pat on my knee from my wife. “That’s good, honey, I’m sure everyone will thank you for it.”

“Apparently, I am fully capable of breaking YouTube, but is it so hard to believe that I could actually then fix it?”

“Darling, you can barely change the water filter on the kitchen sink without hosing down the walls.”

“I don’t think that faucet was ever installed correctly to begin with.”

Pat, pat.

1 comment about "Waiting To Throw: Airplay Still Waiting To Take Flight ".
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  1. James Pasquale from digi.me, April 16, 2013 at 12:18 p.m.

    What a great example for the use of a personal cloud (pCloud) and a personal cloud service, like iCloud.

    Applications in general need to behave more like IMAP and less like POP email technologies, and we definitely need better integration between self host (local) and offsite hosted (remote location), like so many service and apps we use today.

    Personal Clouds biggest challenge is moving to our modern day habits and uses. With the obstacle of having to use primitive tools. How can I make you a beautiful table set when all I have is a hand saw that doesn't cut straight paradigm. But that's what so exciting there's so much work to be done it's going to make the journey a wonderful experience.

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