AirPlay - the wireless screen-mirroring feature that allows people to beam video from their iPhones and iPads to their televisions is by far the best feature of Apple TV. Google just borrowed the concept. And that's awesome. It would be even more awesome if it did a better job of matching all of AirPlay's capabilities.
A Good Steal
Google TV users who own Android smartphones and tablets can now pair the devices together and beam YouTube videos between them without any additional accessories or tinkering required, according to GigaOm and others. It was possible to do this before, but the new feature eliminates an extra step, which makes all the difference when forging a user-friendly Web TV experience, which has to compete with the simple, turn-it-on-and-watch approach enjoyed by traditional TV viewers.
Unfortunately, Google's version of AirPlay isn't anywhere near as robust as what Apple offers. For now, it's limited to YouTube videos, whereas Apple lets users mirror their device's entire screen to the TV, allowing for any tablet-compatible content to be watched on the big screen.
When we talk about smartphones and tablets in the living room, we tend to think of them as "second screen" devices, which are used to multitask. Viewers use apps like GetGlue and Miso to "check in" to shows while Shazam, i.TV and others layer in supplementary content from around the Web. Then there are the social TV apps like Yap.tv and the rest of them. All told, the second screen is a crowded place with a rising tide of tablet and smartphone apps vying for viewers' increasingly fractured attention.
Mobile Devices As Content Command Centers
With AirPlay and Google's answer to it, these devices cease to be second screens and instead serve as a central source of content. That's not to suggest that TV watchers won't use a third device to multitask, tweet and read up on TV-related trivia. But in many cases, the second screen is actually going to blend seamlessly with the first one.
This is a postive step for Android and Google TV users. And it will be a big win if Google is able to extend this capability beyond just YouTube videos. Google doesn't reveal the number of Google TV activations, but a third party estimate from early this year suggests the userbase is not overwhelming.
Why I Love AirPlay
Personally, I use AirPlay constantly, streaming videos from any iPad app my heart desires. That means I can watch live news from Al Jazeera or my local ABC affiliate. It means I can watch the videos I save for later using Boxee's browser bookmarklet and iPad app and I can see videos my friends (and other tastemaker) are sharing using ShowYou. And that's just the beginning.
Layer all of that on top of Hulu Plus, Netflix and Apple's podcast directory, and I've got an incredibly robust selection of entertainment on my hands, all without the need for a cable subscription. Factor in Google's major push toward original, premium video content on YouTube, and you can start to see where the cable industry's model might start to weaken down the line.
Google's not all the way there yet, so let's hope the company keeps improving its version of AirPlay to include all the content you play on your Android device. We could change the role of television to nothing more than a big display screen for our mobile devices. That would truly be awesome.