Date posted: September 9, 2013
Written by: Rob Witman

AirPlay Direct

As is typical the day before a new Apple announcement, all eyes are on the next iteration of the iPhone and iOS.  It seems almost impossible that this version will not include a fingerprint sensor, something that could be misunderstood as a minor improvement.  The fingerprint sensor will be heavily touted by Apple as usual, but unlike the more vague benefits of the new iOS look and feel, it is truly a game changing feature addition.  The data on our devices have become increasingly personal and having a fast, reliable way to lock them down has always been missing.  Because of its absence, the phone manufacturers have often been coy about security issues.  Now they will be front and center and if your phone doesn’t have biometric security, you will be left out in the cold.

Since this is a certainty, what will be the ‘one more thing?’  Based on a report by Panjiva, there will be an updated Apple TV.  Although this could be the much anticipated iTV, that seems highly unlikely.  Much more likely is that this is just another iterative update to the already released Apple TV.  However, similar to the fingerprint sensor, this update may include something that greatly improves the experience.  As reported by Panjiva, the bill of lading includes reference to a “set top box with communication function”.  One could argue this is just a fancy reference to the already included ethernet / wifi network capabilities of the current box.  Or, in the spirit of pre-announcement speculation, what if it is something else?

 What if the “communication function” is actually a direct device to device AirPlay pipe?  Currently if you use AirPlay, you are connecting to your home network via the phone’s wifi and then to your Apple TV either over wifi or ethernet.  This results in twice as much bandwidth being used on your network and the results can easily be seen by switching your Apple TV connection from wifi to wired.  The latter is typically much more reliable and stutter free, especially in ‘noisy’ wifi environments.  While Apple TV is still a hobby, it appears that Apple is progressively improving the experience in a deliberate march towards the ultimate convergence device.  Having your iPhone or iPad connect directly to your Apple TV would further improve that experience.

Why does Apple care about that connection so much when it is currently just fine for streaming content?  Because right now it isn’t quite good enough for gaming.  Dropping a frame or having some breakup is acceptable, almost expected, when you are watching YouTube.  However, if you are going to be gaming, it is far less desirable.  We have seen break ups and stutters in our applications and we don’t do anything more intense than sliding some playing cards and chips around (… yet).  However, with the addition of game controllers this summer, it is clear that Apple’s sights for the Apple TV are beyond just another streaming box.  Wether they are natively rendered, or video is sent via AirPlay, Apple is anticipating users playing games more and more with their Apple TV.  By including a direct AirPlay connection from the device to the box, Apple would be further solidifying the core capabilities of their little box that could.  

 A streamlined connection between the Apple TV and the user’s device, along with the controller add on announced this summer, results in a legitimate competitor to the Wii U, Ouya and others in the home game system market.