Apple’s big new iOS 4.2 software update for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch includes a sexy feature called “AirPlay,” which lets you wirelessly stream video, photos, or audio to an Apple TV.But the way AirPlay was released by Apple yesterday, it’s crippled. And it’s not immediately clear why.
Specifically, AirPlay only works for video in Apple’s iTunes movies app and the built-in YouTube app. As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber notes, it does NOT support video AirPlay in Safari (for web video), in third-party apps, or for video shot by the iPhone’s camera. It’s audio-only for those apps, which is much less useful.
Why is it crippled like this?
One theory, which Gruber floats, is that there could be technical issues preventing video AirPlay from working as desired from those apps. He hypothesizes, “…maybe AirPlay doesn’t support video clips shot on your iPhone because they’re not compressed well enough to stream at a reasonable rate.”
This is plausible, and given Apple’s focus on user experience, it makes sense that Apple would release a product without half of a feature, rather than offering a feature that is unreliable or works funky. (It really needed to get iOS 4.2 out the door this month, AirPlay or no AirPlay.) If your video is constantly stuttering because the iPad can’t push it through the air well enough, that will make AirPlay and Apple look like crap. Apple would rather you wait.
Gruber suspects that Apple could make improvements to AirPlay in future versions of iOS that could allow video in Safari and third-party apps.
Another theory is that this isn’t a technical issue at all, but a business issue.
The big TV networks do NOT want you watching web video on your TV. They want you watching web video on a computer or portable device, and TV on your TV. That’s why the networks have blocked Google TV from accessing their videos, and that’s why Hulu only allows its $8 per month “Plus” service to operate on iPads, connected TVs, etc.
So perhaps the networks — which Apple is trying to work with closely on things like iTunes, iPad apps, and maybe someday a subscription video service — pressured Apple to get rid of AirPlay video in Safari or third-party apps. At least, perhaps, until videos or apps could be selectively activated or de-activated.
Which reason is true? Is there another reason? We’ve reached out to Apple for comment, and we’ll update if we hear back. In the meantime, if you have more info, let us know at [email protected]
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