The Hills Are Greener: Google Pulling the Rug Out From Under AirPlay?

The Hills Are Greener: Google Pulling the Rug Out From Under AirPlay?

Aug 5, 2013

I predict that in a year from now, the Chromecast will be the dominant way to beam video from smart devices to TVs. Sure, that’s not really a bold prediction: we’re talking about $35 HDMI dongles versus a $99 box from Apple, but still, considering that Apple had possibly the biggest stake in the game so far.

Of course, the reason why is the very same reason why Android has a bigger market share than iOS, but why Apple generally wins the profit battle: Apple’s more concerned with building out its own ecosystem. Apple wants its users to buy more Apple products that interact with each other, and little things like AirPlay (still a ‘hobby’ to them) are steps in that direction. Plus, they encourage brand loyalty because it’s hard to break free of things like iMessage and iCloud.

The difference here is that Google wants to all but yoink AirPlay out from under its feet by not just making a platform for streaming from Android, but from iOS and Mac as well. They’re jumping on Apple’s turf and there’s nothing they can do about it at this point. By almost-stealthily putting the APIs in and launching right away, they’ve managed to get a foothold on iOS, and they have made their little streaming stick compelling to everyone.

Chromecast-CastIconIn a sense, that’s what Google has to do: they’re a service company, and their hardware has to find a way to support their services. So they are better off with making sure that their hardware can push their services. After all, they’re all about data and the collection thereof, and anything that increases their ubiquity is a win to them. If it happens on the backs of iPhone and iPad users, then, hey – nothing wrong with that.

Of course, it all provides subtle pushes toward Android. Like Chromecast but want the ability to control it from the notification bar? Why, we provide that handy feature for you! Like Google Now in the Google app? Wouldn’t it be better if it could be accessed through a system-level gesture or button? Hey, Android provides that!

But ultimately, Chromecast just might win because Google is not only providing a compelling reason to buy its hardware, but it’s also making sure that everyone can take part, and developers will have plenty of reasons to develop for it. And because Apple has yet to explode with AirPlay, Google might just be the dominant player after all.

The Hills Are Greener: Google’s Clever Chromecast Gambit

The Hills Are Greener: Google’s Clever Chromecast Gambit

Jul 29, 2013

Google finally just did something really interesting in trying to win the battle of beaming media to TVs: they decided to go mass-market. Chromecast is an absolutely genius move from Google.

Apple could and arguably should have won this already. The Apple TV and AirPlay could have dominated, and for all intents and purposes, has been the winner by default. Samsung’s AllCast has barely made a blip, and Miracast has limited interest so far. But yet, since Apple has taken AirPlay to just be a hobby to this day, there’s been a gap still. And Chromecast could fill it because no death blow has been made yet.

The price has a lot to do with what the Chromecast can do: $35 is budget and impulse-buy friendly. I hardly ‘need’ a Chromecast (though owning one for work purposes is a good idea) and I bought one pretty much instantaneously. That it sold out instantaneously means that there’s definite consumer interest there too, even just as a curiosity. Turn any TV into a smart TV for $35? Sure! And it’s cheaper than most other solutions out there. That’s a scary price, and one that will likely get other streaming services scrambling to get Chromecast-compatible.

Chromecast-CastIconBut most importantly, Google is focusing on content to start off with. There’s the ability to beam any Chrome page to a TV, quite possibly including video elements. This could serve as a great springboard for the Play video service. And most importantly, they got Netflix, the kahuna of streaming video services, at launch. Without Netflix, this thing is a heap of garbage.

Google used a bit of smoke-and-mirrors to pull off the reveal too. They’ve conveniently not shown the USB power cable that extends out of the Chromecast to power it. They also announced the free 3 months of Netflix that were taken away when they ran out of codes a day later due to high demand. Should they try to reinstate it? Such a move would be clever (and would make it a no-doubter proposition for Netflix subscribers who would end up basically paying $11 for the device), but may not be prudent in the long term.

Oh, and this all works cross-platform. Chromecast will work with seemingly anything built to support it as Google (or hackers) allow it. It’s not just about the edge case of mirroring or streaming, it’s about users being able to get the content they want on their TV easily. And Google’s going to get them to do it cheaply and with Google products.

What Google does with Chromecast over the next year, if they can turn it into the big push-to-TV standard based on price, will be interesting. But they’re off to a big start, because their biggest competitor failed to pin the market when they had the advantage.

Qualcomm and doubleTwist Want to Popularize MagicPlay, Their Open Source Version of AirPlay

Qualcomm and doubleTwist Want to Popularize MagicPlay, Their Open Source Version of AirPlay

Feb 27, 2013

The lack of an official AirPlay variant on Android is certainly something that has been open for third parties to attempt to jump in on. We’ve seen Zapstreak making strides toward a version of this, and now doubleTwist wants to jump in on this market along with processor manufacutrer Qualcomm. Their new service MagicPlay wants to be an open AirPlay replacement.

This protocol will be open source, and will stream media to Qualcomm devices running the AllJoyn protocol. Their chips are in devices as diverse as TVs and cars. As well, it will be possible to actually stream media over wi-fi, which hopes to alleviate some of the hassles that come with streaming media.

The benefit that MagicPlay will have in starting out is that doubleTwist has a sizable install base on Android, of 10–50 million downloads on Google Play alone. While they’ve tried to use AirPlay in the AirSync app, this is still limiting to only AirPlay receivers. While Zapstreak’s DLNA support gives it the widest compatibility, it will still need a way to breakthrough into the mainstream. doubleTwist may just provide that opportunity for MagicPlay. TechCrunch reports that it should start hitting this spring with source code available in Q3 2013, and doubleTwist is demoing it at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Android 4.2’s Miracast Wireless Screen Mirroring: Why It Could Be The Future – Or Also Not

Android 4.2’s Miracast Wireless Screen Mirroring: Why It Could Be The Future – Or Also Not

Oct 31, 2012

While Jelly Bean 4.2 doesn’t really bring a lot to the table, it does bring one particularly interesting feature to Android devices: wireless display mirroring through the Miracast protocol. This is designed to be an open standard that hardware manufacturers can implement to support secure wireless display transmission. Haven’t heard of it? Well, the protocol is just starting out, but hypothetically, it could be something widespread if Smart TVs take off in a substantial way. Imagine being able to play back a video from the Nexus 4 on a TV directly without worrying about having an HDMI output cable, or in the case of Apple and the AirPlay standard, having to have a separate box.

Granted, while AirPlay has the advantage of Apple’s massive distribution entities, for consumers it has the disadvantage of being Apple-only. Want to use AirPlay Mirroring? Hopefully you’re an Apple user! Miracast has few devices certified for use right now, though Netgear has a promising device in the pre-certification stages. The benefit to the open approach is that users won’t be locked in to one hardware provider, but considering that Apple benefits from the closed approach in ways that are best expressed with dollar signs, the open approach is a tough hill to climb, and Miracast could easily go the way of many other attempted standards.

However, considering that there are millions of Nexus 7s out there (and more being sold every month, even in the face of growing competition), and new devices that will get this protocol right away, along with a year or so from now when everyone else catches up, the sheer amount of hardware that will support it may be enough to propel it along, especially as Smart TVs start to spread. That may actually be the clearest path to success for Miracast: if it just becomes a quiet ubiquity, something users expect to have because it’s just everywhere.

But even Android manufacturers could be their own worst enemy here if they decide to try their own proprietary standards. Samsung’s doing it with AllShare supporting wireless display mirroring, and as mentioned earlier: proprietary standards if done right can have long-term benefits of selling more hardware now and in the future. But in the Android space, no one has had much success doing that. Even Apple still regards the Apple TV as a side project.

So Miracast may be a long way from being the kind of universal screen mirroring and media sharing protocol it has the potential to be, but maybe it being a part of 4.2 is just the flickering ember it needs to light up.

Zapstreak Shows Early Results of Android to TV Media Streaming Behavior Through Shortbeam

Zapstreak Shows Early Results of Android to TV Media Streaming Behavior Through Shortbeam

Aug 9, 2012

While they didn’t exactly publicize this app when announcing the initial Zapstreak SDK, there has been one app using their technology on Android, called Shortbeam. This app allows users to stream video from services like YouTube and Reddit TV to a DLNA-compatible TV or media device, along with their photos and music.  Fusion Sheep, the developer of Zapstreak, has shared some data on how users are streaming media with the service to this point.

So far, video has overwhelmingly been the most streamed media, representing 65% of what is streamed to TVs. Photos are actually second above music, at 18% to 17%. A total of over 469 hours of media has been streamed, though the average stream has been for just over 2 minutes. Users may just be interested in finding a way to view short-form content on their TVs, not to use their phones as a media hub to be beamed when necessary.

Inteestingly, the Samsung Galaxy S II was the most popular streaming source. TVs represented 9 of the 10 media receivers, with only the DirecTV set top box being the non-smart-TV in the list. Coincidental or not, 6 out of the top 10 were streaming from and to the same manufacturer. While sample size issues are abound with this information, it could show that cross-hardware branding is a potential strength for manufacturers to focus on.

Shortbeam is free from Google Play. The Zapstreak SDK is still in beta.

KickStarter Spotlight: playGO AP1

KickStarter Spotlight: playGO AP1

May 23, 2012

Love them or hate them, it is hard to argue against Apple’s AirPlay; with the tap of a button any song is now playing, wirelessly, on the living room speakers. Making an entire house’s media work together is something that Apple really prides itself on, and for good reason. Having an Apple TV, iPod Touch, and a MacBook Pro I can attest to the ease of use and incredible convenience of sitting back and wirelessly listening to my music on the stereo while my laptop and I remain comfortably seated on the loveseat. Delivering an experience like AirPlay is something that Apple competitors have been trying to accomplish for years now, and while semi-viable solutions have emerged, it is still a frustrating and very flawed experience.

The solution for non-Apple subscribers remains tied to DLNA. Unfortunately for phone owners, there is not a lot of DLNA support in Android and it is up to a 3rd party app to get it to work. Assuming this is not too much to handle, playGO from Monroe, CT has developed a worthy replacement for any set-top wireless audio streamer dubbed the AP1 for it’s native AirPlay support. A major complaint of other routers is that they are tied into a questionable sets of speakers and can be horrifically expensive.

The playGO AP1 connects directly into any existing stereo system and includes multiple input and output types. This level of flexibility has yet to be seen from this market and playGO has made it a mission to ensure that this product is both future and backwards compatible. The sleek white with blue trim router is firmware-updatable and offers support for wired connections; including legacy iOS models.

I know that setting up home audio with an Android phone in mind is tough, but assuming that dealing with DLNA is not an issue then the playGO AP1 is something that should not be missed, and as like all KickStarter projects, these projects are not funded without support from the internet.

Zapstreak Hopes to Bring DLNA Media Streaming from Android to DLNA Devices

Zapstreak Hopes to Bring DLNA Media Streaming from Android to DLNA Devices

May 2, 2012

One of the features that Android is missing compared to iOS is AirPlay. While that uses proprietary Apple protocols and occasionally even hardware to get the job done, it does make it easy for users in the Apple ecosystem to beam their content wherever they want.

However, Android users don’t really have an equivalent service to call their own. Apps like DoubleTwist integrate with the AirPlay standard, but still basically require an AirPlay device at the other end.

Zapstreak is hoping to change this. They’re hoping to allow Android users to beam their content to their TVs and other connected media devices through the DLNA standard.

What their SDK aims to let developers do is to let them share photos, audio, and video from an Android device, and beam it to a DLNA client. DLNA is a much more open standard than AirPlay is, utilizing UPnP to help devices, even from different manufacturers and operating systems, communicate in order to share media.

So, by utilizing properly encoded information, an app integrated with Zapstreak will be able to display media on TVs very easily. For example, a music streaming app will be able to play music to a set of connected speakers if it’s integrated with Zapstreak. Photo apps can share users’ creations on a big screen with the Zapstreak. Video apps, when properly encoded, can be streamed to view on a TV, which may be the most exciting part of the Zapstreak proposition.

In speaking with Stefan Bielau of Fusion Sheep, he says that their goal is to reach connected TVs in particular, with the idea that their service will allow users to beam content without any hardware in between. Of course, any DLNA device is hypothetically usable with the service. This includes the Xbox 360 and PS3, and Stefan Bielau even mentioned an old wifi-enabled radio he was able to use to stream audio from a Zapstreak app.

While Zapstreak are not ready to reveal what will be using their SDK, especially as signups are still occurring. However, their plan, at least in the middle term, is to hopefully integrate some functionality in non-media apps, potentially utilizing Zapstreak to stream live audio to a TV. In its current incarnation, it may be difficult for an Android equivalent AirPlay Mirroring implementation to come through this.

As well, Android and DLNA appear to just be the start of thigns for Zapstreak: the plan is to launch on Windows Phone and iOS in the future, and to even get to a point where they could share to an Apple TV. Signups for the Zapstreak SDK are available from their website.

DoubleTwist AirSync Review

DoubleTwist AirSync Review

Nov 1, 2011

This review is one part of my two part look at Mac compatible/WinAmp alternatives for wirelessly syncing music to your phone. Because doubleTwist is one of the more highly used programs, I figured that a full Rundown would be appropriate.

DoubleTwist comes in with a lot of hype. There are three parts to the full package: one iTunes-like desktop app, a free media player app, and a $4.99 AirSync app that’s basically an add-on to the media player. The aim for doubleTwist is to be the Android version of Apple’s iTunes and iCloud service. It comes close, but there’s no way for Android to replicate the success and simplicity of their Macintosh counterpart.

Starting with the desktop application, I’ll say this first: I am an iTunes slave. I’ve tried multiple other media players but I always end up reverting back to iTunes eventually. I admit that iTunes is bloated and needs a rewrite, and I thought that any new media player would have to be faster and smaller. Shockingly, I was proven wrong with the doubleTwist media player. I’ve uninstalled/reinstalled this program a few times on my MacBook Pro but it doesn’t seem to alleviate the sluggishness through the menus, and the program will frequently lock up for 30 seconds before working again. The program also takes longer to load than iTunes, which I wasn’t even aware was possible. Without the Android AirSync app, however, doubleTwist does do a good job of wired syncing; it organizes your files accurately within the Music folder on your phones SD card. But a means to easily put music on your phone is the only thing this application should be used for. This is not an iTunes replacement, even though it tries to be. It also hijacks the play and next/previous buttons when closed but not fully quit which can be very frustrating.

Fortunately, the mobile app fares better. The mobile media player is very capable, and has a very elegant lock screen widget. There isn’t much to set this app apart from other mobile media players like WinAmp, but like I said in my review for UberMusic, if you want a basic media player to replace an iPod, this will do the job handedly. There are many complaints of sluggishness and “glitchiness” on the Android market, but in my experiences with it I have not found any problems on my HTC EVO 4G. There is an add-on to the media player that adds Gracenote album art automatically and allows for an advanced equalizer. But for $5.99 it kind of seems like a raw deal.

Finally, the last part of this package is the separate $4.99 AirSync application. This application basically allows you to wirelessly sync music, photos, and videos to your Android phone over a home network. Setting up AirSync with doubleTwist is easy enough, but I would like to see it simplified down a little bit more. I can easily see less experienced users having a hard time getting doubleTwist to recognize their phone. I was impressed with the speed that my files were synced over to my phone. It took less then a minute to sync a 19 song album to my phone, which is faster then it takes to do the same thing wired. I had no problem is having other media players recognize the files, which means that even if you do not like the mobile player or the desktop app, you only have to use them to transfer your files.

The final aspect of this app is its integration with the Xbox 360, PS3, and Apple TV. Surely, the Apple TV feature can’t be true. Streaming music from your Android phone onto an Apple TV? No way. Well yeah, it’s true. DoubleTwist easily streams your videos, photos, and music to Apple TV. It’s not perfect; when a song is playing, no info appears, displaying just a black screen, but come on. Close enough. Even better is the streaming to the Xbox 360. Your phone appears under the list of drives when you open the music tab and the songs start playing instantly after selecting them. This actually surprised me. One problem is that the AirPlay feature will stay on even when DoubleTwist is closed which will drain your battery, so just make sure to turn it off when done.

Overall, DoubleTwist is a good Winamp alternative if you can deal with some fairly noticeable problems, even though I’d recommend TuneSync if simply wirelessly syncing music is what you’re after.