3 Reasons AirPlay Mirroring Is the Most Important Feature of iOS 5

A few weeks back, at its annual developer conference in San Francisco, Apple announced a slew of new features that will be appearing in iOS 5, the next version of its mobile operating system. Some, like the new Notification Center, will improve the usability of iOS – and, as some pundits will note – bring iOS to parity with Android in certain areas where the latter has generally been regarded as the better system. Newsstand aims to make magazine subscriptions even more attractive and easier to use. Tight integration of Twitter throughout the platform makes it easier to share content via the popular microblogging service.

Loads of other new features and enhancements will undoubtedly create new opportunities for marketers and developers alike. Perhaps chief among them is AirPlay Mirroring. This didn’t get a lot of attention during the keynote itself. But since then, however, it has been picked up and demoed by various developers and bloggers who have access to iOS 5 beta (there’s already more than 100 videos up on YouTube). Still, I’m not sure people realize how big this is. I think it’s the hidden gem of Apple’s newest mobile OS. In fact, I’ll go a step farther: AirPlay Mirroring is, hands down, the biggest leap forward in the connected living room that the industry has ever seen. Period.

Simply put, AirPlay Mirroring displays pretty much anything that appears on your iPad onto your TV screen, wirelessly via the new(ish) Apple TV box. It works with the core iPad interface as well as any apps, games, videos, and so on. It even adjusts for portrait or landscape mode, completely mirroring everything you do with your iPad (thus the clever name). This capability exists today via an optional HDMI cable, but iOS 5 and Apple TV make it wireless.

Here are three reasons why AirPlay Mirroring is the most important feature of iOS 5:

  1. The app-ification of TV. Players from all sides of the ecosystem are chasing this, and it would seem that the TV is the next device that will be overtaken by the app revolution. Yahoo’s TV widget platform may be the oldest TV application platform, and exciting new features that it announced at CES this year are set to make their debut in the coming months. But major OEMs are also launching their own initiatives. Sony has aligned with Google TV, which will shortly be supporting third-party apps, and Samsung’s application platform has already reached 5 million downloads. The problem, of course, is the massive fragmentation in the space. The winning platform(s) will be those that make it easy to deploy across multiple devices that have massive scale and reach. All signs point to Google/Android and Apple/iOS being the near-term winners, and Apple played a major card with AirPlay Mirroring. Suddenly, all 500,000-plus apps in the iTunes App Store will work in massive form on your TV screen. Developers don’t have to do anything differently. It’ll just work. There is little doubt, though, that a new category of apps is on the horizon that is designed from the ground up to be used on TV, and it will be interesting to see what that does to ad formats. With almost no modification, rich media-like formats from Apple’s own iAd as well as other players like Medialets will likely display flawlessly on the big screen, bringing an entire new level of engagement to mobile advertising.
  2. TV web browsing. This is another hot topic in the connected TV world. The industry is of two minds on the topic – some platforms seem to believe that users don’t want full web browsing capabilities on TV, while others aim to enable a full browser. Take Google, for example. With the launch of Google TV, it published guidelines for creating a TV-optimized version of your website. Meanwhile, the widget and app platforms suggest that people want only snippets and task-focused content/experiences from the web. Part of the issue is the challenge of the current conventions with the TV remote control – LRUD (left right up down) is very different from and less precise than a keyboard and mouse. AirPlay Mirroring makes this debate moot. Suddenly, you’ve got full access to the web, using intuitive touch as your interface, yet presenting the whole thing on your big TV. Google is undoubtedly planning something similar, but for now, iOS 5 gives us the clearest picture of how the browser and the television may come together.
  3. Dual-screen interaction. According to a recent Yahoo/Nielsen study, 86 percent of mobile web users are on their phones while watching TV. Much of what they are doing is communicating with family and friends via social networks and other channels, but they’re also looking up additional information on the program they’re watching, the ads that ride along, or whatever else. Content and technology companies alike are trying to figure out this user experience, creating synchronized two-screen experiences and embedding all manner of social extensions. It’s a hot space that every major network is experimenting with. AirPlay Mirroring brings this capability (and potentially more) to iOS devices.

    Engadget has a great overview of this dual-screen capability working with a popular iOS game – Real Racing. Much like Microsoft’s Kinect, this technology has potential to radically reinvent primetime entertainment. Imagine, for example, if your favorite TV program was distributed as an app in the iTunes store – and you played it on your TV via your iPad with a corresponding rich interactive experience on the tablet that enhanced everything you love about the program. Take a program like Iron Chef America, for example. It’s already a treasure trove of ideas and education for foodies. But imagine if you could go deeper into the recipes, or learn more about the history of a technique, or even get camera angles that aren’t available via the final edited version that makes it to air. The trick here, and a potential limitation, is that both the video and the interactive experience would have to be distributed through the iTunes App Store, since Apple TV, unlike some other connected TV platforms, doesn’t have a way to interact with broadcast TV programming.

AirPlay Mirroring will open up a bevy of new opportunities for content (or app) producers and marketers alike. It’ll be interesting to watch user adoption, and fun to see what everyone does with the capability.

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