Today there was a really well thought article by Joe Hewitt regarding AirPlay and the Apple TV. Here a few excerpts:

Not nearly enough of these analyses have talked about AirPlay. It’s clear to me that AirPlay would be so important to the Apple TV, you might as well call it AirPlay TV.

If I were an iOS developer, I’d start investing in AirPlay right now.
— Joe Hewitt (2011) AirPlay TV

Joe did an excellent summary. While I was noticing as well how little AirPlay was discussed and all its potential for both business and games, I never did a structured article as he did. It’s probably time. :)

For me, AirPlay has a huge potential, but let’s make a step back. The problem today is that most of the time there’s no proximity detection in our digital interaction.

Think about it: try to send a message to the person near you. You’re probably going to write an email and send it. That email then wirelessly connects to the WiFi access point, gets routed to a server somewhere maybe in the USA if you use a service like GMail, then there’s some server-to-server talk around the world and the email is sent back to the device. If it was a physical object, its gas consumption would be deemed as crazy, given that the person is right on your side.

Today, we don’t have any good tech to allow discovery and communication with a near device.

The one big technical hurdle for Apple to overcome is the unreliable WiFi connection between your iOS device and the TV.
— Joe Hewitt (2011) AirPlay TV

Or do we?

Well, it might not be perfect and it might not perform well enough, but Apple sneaked a really interesting piece of technology that, like AirPlay, looked nice but simple and got under most radars: AirDrop.

AirDrop is interesting because as Apple defines it works only on a few selected MacBooks, from 2008 onward, and there’s a reason for that: it requires a WiFi chipset (like the Broadcom BCM4322) that supports multiple streams. Why is this important? Because it needs to be able to stay connected to a WiFi network and at the same time use AirDrop. And it just works: you turn it on, drop a file, done. At a really impressive speed. I guess that the problem is power consumption, so AirDrop isn’t always on, a problem however that will disappear on a TV set, always powered.

I don’t know however if the answer is going to be AirPlay + AirDrop. There might be a problem of power consumption, given that even with iOS5 and iPhone 4S Apple requires you to connect to a power cord before syncing, but that’s might be just be something to avoid problems, given it’s syncing delicate data and AirPlay itself is WiFi.

What about the future?

It’s always very hard to make prediction, because there are lots of problems that involve also partnerships and politics between companies, but I’d like to think that:

  1. One day I might walk into an office with an iPhone and start presenting without any cable, since I can do AirPlay to the projector, zero-configuration.
  2. One day I could sit with a few friends on the couch and everyone could stream to the screen, zero-configuration.
  3. One day I could send anything to a device that sits near to mine, zero-configuration.
  4. One day, maybe, I might not even need any Apple device do do that, because everyone agreed on a standard.
I think that Proximity Interactions are the near future of mobile

I think that Proximity Interactions (PIx) are the near future of mobile. And these above are just the few things that could be possible with an AirPlay like solution, but proximity isn’t limited to that, think for example to NFC or what could be possible if we get a proximity technology that’s also able to get the position of the devices near you. But this is probably material for another topic.

But even with just this, it means that we don’t need “computer” anymore, just screens. A screen could be anywhere, without any controller, and just works. And I wouldn’t need to ask a WiFi password to stream something to some one near me, getting angry eyes from IT people from foreign companies.

And while this is somewhere Apple seems headed to, nothing avoids other companies to do the same. And this future scenario would be better with a lot of interoperability, since I don’t expect Apple to build things like projectors for meeting rooms. ;)

I really hope for a future with more Proximity Interactions, regardless of its form.