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Amid a customary slew of announcements at this week’s Apple developers conference was an interesting update on an iPad feature known as “mirroring.” It’s a nifty application that lets iPad 2 users see and hear whatever’s appearing on their handheld tablets over a connected high-definition TV set. The rub is that you need an HDMI cable snaking between your iPad and TV set to make it happen, which is where things get slightly cumbersome.
But according to the news this week (here’s a quick Gizmodo summary), the next iPad operating system (iOS 5) will improve the current mirroring capabilities of the iPad 2 so that users can connect wirelessly through Apple’s Airplay platform coupled with a $99 Apple TV player. That means, among other things, that the Hulu Plus subscriber who’s watching television via an iPad can readily export Hulu’s offerings to the TV set, no wires needed. And that the Netflix user who just launched “Pulp Fiction” (debuting this month from Miramax) can start it in the office on an iPad then sling it wirelessly to the big screen. Or that the iTunes movie customer who ordered “Black Swan” over the iPad can beam it to the living-room set.
Each of those scenarios – watching Hulu Plus, Netflix or iTunes movies on TV sets – is possible today without an iPad 2, so there’s no real application breakthrough here. Various combinations of Xbox 360s, Apple TV receivers and Roku players do the same things. What makes the iPad mirroring feature interesting, though, is the enormous popularity of the platform itself. More than 25 million iPads have been sold already (granted, most are first-generation devices), indicating tremendous appeal. Another 6 million or so are expected to be sold in the current quarter, most of them iPad 2s.
As the penetration of the iPad platform deepens, the device’s potential repartee with the television set becomes more interesting. Taken at an extreme angle, you can imagine the iPad becoming not a secondary platform for video, which is the way most TV-ecosystem participants have envisioned it, but the primary means of acquiring and managing video content on the big screen. Seriously, why not? A dazzling interface, cool applications like ABC’s video player and, now, the ability to connect as if via magic to the TV set have the potential to obviate clunky, proprietary navigation and selection systems to which satellite and cable providers are unfortunately lashed.
The ultimate irony is that neat new iPad linear-video applications from cable providers could end up being twisted into an upside-down way to choose and watch television. Imagine a household with an iPad 2-Airplay combo and access to Time Warner Cable’s iPad video player app. By invoking the Airplay connection, channels received through the iPad could ricochet right back to the television set through the mirroring application, creating an odd scenario in which an iPad user is recreating what’s already available through the traditional cable service to the TV set. Why bother? Because it’s an iPad. Because it’s cooler than a Cisco set-top. Because it confers a richer sense of control and personalization to the user. And because when empowered by technology advances, human beings don’t always respond in the way things were scripted. That may become more apparent than ever as a population of TV-talking iPad 2s starts to meander into the consumer populace, inspiring individuals to do anything but mirror their legacy habits.
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