The Future of Content: Anything, Anywhere, Anytime

Wednesday Jun 6th 2012 by Mike Elgan
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Apple, Microsoft and Google will soon make all of the screens in your life work together in amazing new ways.

Suddenly, the thrilling future of consumer electronics is becoming clear. We’re entering a world in which any content -- movies, TV, music, books, games and more -- will be available on any device at any time.

This is a huge transformation, and it’s coming very soon.

It used to be that different devices were used for entirely different things. Go back ten years. We used TVs for -- wait for it! -- watching TV. Desktop computers were used mostly for "real work," office applications, web surfing, gaming and other uses. Laptops were either desktop replacements for some, or traveling devices for others. Phones were used for making calls, texting and other mobile-specific uses.

By this time next year, nearly all these devices will do nearly all these functions.

We'll use the TV for texting and video phone calls. We'll watch “cable” TV on tablets. We’ll do work on office suites with phones. We’ll check our shopping lists on the TV. We’ll DVR-record shows with our phones. Our tablets will do everything.

This anything, anywhere, anytime future is closer than you think.

The Rise of Mirroring

Apple introduced a feature called Airplay Mirroring in 2010, and announced it as a feature in iOS 5at last year's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

The feature enables any device running iTunes, iOS 4.2 or later or OS X Mountain Lion to stream whatever's on the screen to any device connected via AirPort Express, Apple TVor any number of third-party devices that have licensed the technology.

Let's say you want to show someone a video on YouTube. Just punch it up on your iPhone and tap the AirPlay Mirroring button, it shows up in HD on your TV. And it looks surprisingly good. (This is assuming you've already set it up, which is easy.)

The same goes for games, apps, calendars, photos and more.

AirPlay Mirroring isn’t mainstream, mainly because of the limited number of people with AirPort Express or Apple TV. But for the minority who use it, the feature is fantastic now, and will probably get much better in the future.

Over time, the "illusion" of "mirroring" one screen on another will be maintained, while actual content will be intelligently downloaded from iCloudor played from the device itself. For example, if you're playing a movie as a file optimized for iPhone on the phone, AirPlay will grab the full TV HD version from iCloud for the TV or from the TV’s hard drive.

People will increasingly use Apple AirPlay Mirroring and competing products and services just like it.

The TV becomes just a big computer screen, and you'll be able to use any connected device in the house to play anything on it.

The Rise of 'Reverse Mirroring'

I believe Apple will soon announce -- possibly as soon as Monday at this year’s WWDC-- something I call "Reverse Mirroring" -- a feature that beams whatever's on your TV to your iOS devices or to your OS X computer.

That means you should be able to watch both live and DVR-recorded content on your Mac, iPador iPhone.

Over time, it will also mean that TV-specific apps for “smart TVs” will be easily available on mobile devices and desktop PCs in the house.

All Together Now

The convergence of cloud computing, higher mobility, digital content, faster wireless speeds, higher resolution screens, apps, and other trends have conspired to enable a radical new sharing of tasks on all the screens in your life.

The next phase is getting them to work together in intelligent ways. That means a single app, or a TV show that works with apps, will work together to create a multi-screen experience.

Not just TV on phones, or phone apps on TVs, but TVs and phones working together to create something never before possible.

So iPhones and iPads will function as remote control units, game controllers, and third screens.

Again, this is all speculation on my part. But no matter when Apple announces such a feature, Microsofthas already beat them to it -- at least to an announcement.

Microsoft announced this week a new feature called SmartGlass. It will show up in the form of an app (iOS, Android, Windows Phone or Windows 8) that can be used to control an Xbox. It can function like a TV remote, a game controller, a "second screen" for games or whatever third-party developers conjure up.

Google will almost certainly follow suit with new features that connect screens in both Google TV and Android for phones and tablets.

Apple, Microsoft, Google and others are in a life-or-death struggle for dominance of your living room and your “everything.” And they’ll do it by thrilling you with screen convergence.

Here are the kinds of activities this trend enables:

* Read a book to your kids on the TV -- you read from an iPad, but the child sees a big interactive experience on the TV.

* Use the microphone on your phone for a karaoke app or a game.

* Use your phone as a Wii-style controller, leveraging the built-in gyroscope and other sensors.

* Play games that show a different screen to each player. For example, a poker game might show the poker table on the TV with cards face down, but each player sees their own cards on their own mobile devices. You can throw cards face up on the TV by flicking them on the phone.

* Show a presentation on a TV and use the phone as clicker.

* Use any mobile device as the interactive remote control for the TV.

Note that the cable and satellite dish companies don't like any of this. It brings easy competition to scheduled broadcasts from anything and everything online or served up via apps. And it enables families to have one subscription, "consumed" on lots of screens.

But most of all, it takes more power and control over the distribution of TV and movies away from Hollywood and gives it to Silicon Valley.

I appeared as a guest on the netcast MacBreak Weekly this week, and host Leo Laporte pointed out his long-predicted expectation for the future of media. To paraphrase, he sees a world of anything, anywhere, anytime content.

No more worrying about platform, broadcast schedules, storage location or any of that. Whatever you want, wherever and whenever you want it is coming soon to a screen -- to all screens -- near you.

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