Apple’s AirPlay Seed Begins to Take Root

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Last year, Apple introduced a sleeper agent that, while better than its predecessor, still wasn’t fully active. That agent was the Apple TV, and it wasn’t until the release of iOS 4.3 that its true potential became apparent. Wireless media streaming protocol AirPlay was the key to that potential, and with iOS 4.3, it expanded beyond the confines of Apple’s own limited sphere of apps and into the vast library of the larger App Store.

Major players in the online video business may still be reluctant to embrace AirPlay, but plenty of small developers are seizing the opportunity it provides to bring content from the mobile screen to the living room television. ShowYou, which pulls video content from social networks to your iPad, is just one example. Discovr, which helps you find new music, is another, and Air Video unlocks your desktop-based library for both your iOS mobile devices and your big screen TV via AirPlay. Back in September of last year, I called AirPlay a “sleeping giant,” and apps like these are good signs the giant is starting to wake up.

It’s also a good sign that influential tech figures like Robert Scoble are sitting up and taking notice. Scoble wrote a post Wednesday for Business Insider which calls AirPlay “the most important new technology since RSS.” He was impressed by three apps in particular: ShowYou, mentioned above; Squrl, which provides access to videos from a variety of sources; and the TED iPad app, which collects talks from speakers at the technology, entertainment and design conferences.

AirPlay still has hurdles and limitations. Providers of traditional TV and film content seem reluctant to embrace it; Hulu and Netflix are steering clear, as are official apps from ABC and Warner Bros.. It’s also still officially locked to Apple devices — though some claim that may change.

Even without support from major content partners, AirPlay will continue to grow in popularity among third-party app developers, especially since doing so seems to incur a lot of positive press attention. And though you may need an Apple TV to use it, that’s not as much of a hurdle as you might think/ The Apple TV retails for only $99 new, which isn’t so bad even if you just consider it a wireless video streaming dongle.

Add in Netflix, iTunes store access, and now MLB.tv and NBA League Pass, and $99 seems like a steal. As more and more apps offer AirPlay streaming, we’ll see Apple TV sales continue to rise, too.

Support from major content providers would help speed the adoption of AirPlay and the Apple TV, but its absence won’t kill the feature. In fact, it could provide the perfect opportunity for smaller production companies and independent creators to step up and reach a broader audience. Regardless of who does and doesn’t decide to join in, Apple and users will win with AirPlay, and those reluctant to get on board will lose out.

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