Google Needs an AirPlay Competitor, Whether It’s Building One or Not

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When Google announced an update to Google TV last week, it was hard not to imagine something bigger: a full-blown competitor to Apple‘s AirPlay.

AirPlay allows iPhone, iPad or Mac users to beam audio and video to a television using an Apple TV box. So if you’re watching a video through Hulu Plus on an iPad, or looking through the camera roll on an iPhone, you can play that content on the big screen with the press of a button. The key is that there’s no setup process. You just press the AirPlay button, and it works.

That simplicity is exactly what Google is aiming for with a new feature in Google TV, which lets users send a YouTube video from their Android phones or tablets to the big screen just by pushing a button. (Here’s an interactive website from Google that simulates the feature in action.)

Although Google has dabbled with remote playback before, previously users had to pair their devices using a nine-digit code. Now, as long as both devices are on the same network, they’re paired automatically. The feature is rolling out to LG’s Google TVs now, and will come to other devices, such as the Vizio Co-Star, in the coming months

The ability to fling YouTube videos onto a television represents just a fraction of what AirPlay can do, but it’s a start. Also, this isn’t the first sign that Google is trying bridge the gap between mobile devices and TVs. In July, GigaOM reported that Google was, in fact, planning a full-blown AirPlay competitor, starting with YouTube videos and eventually becoming available in third-party apps. That rumor, based on unnamed sources, appears to be coming to fruition.

This week, GigaOM followed up on that story, with comments on the new YouTube feature from project manager Timbo Drayson:

But it is not stopping there. Drayson told me that Google is “actively working with other companies” to turn this into an open standard, which could be used on other platforms and for other apps as well.

And it’s not just about remote control functionality and beaming a video from your mobile phone to the TV we are talking about. The new protocol makes it possible for data to flow in both directions, Drayson explained, which would enable developers to build second-screen experiences that correspond to what’s happening on live TV as well. Also on the roadmap: beaming content from your laptop to your TV screen.

It’s worth noting that Google still hasn’t made any big announcements about a possible AirPlay competitor. It hasn’t even come up with a catchy, Apple-like name for whatever this thing might be. Still, it’s hard to believe that Google isn’t working on something bigger than what exists today. AirPlay is one of the big selling points for Apple TV, and it could be a major feature if Apple ever builds its own television. Meanwhile, Microsoft has built its own Xbox companion app called SmartGlass, which works on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets.

There’s just one complication: Google’s method doesn’t work the same way as AirPlay. Instead of streaming from one device to the other, the Android device simply sends instructions to Google TV, telling it which YouTube video to play and letting the user control playback remotely. (It’s more like SmartGlass in that sense.) With AirPlay, however, the actual content is transferred between devices over Wi-Fi, so not only can you send a song or video, you can also mirror your iPhone or iPad’s display on the larger screen.

Google may have an answer for true screen mirroring in the form of Miracast, a new wireless standard that works over Wi-Fi networks. Miracast has also been hailed as an AirPlay competitor, and Google added support for it in Android 4.2. Still, it will take some time for Miracast support to take hold in phones, tablets, set-top boxes and televisions.

The question is, how will Google tie all of this together? The nice thing about
AirPlay is that it’s all-encompassing. Whether you’re sharing a photo, video, song, or mirroring your entire display, AirPlay is the catch-all, and barring DRM restrictions from some content publishers, it generally works in all sorts of applications. Building a credible Android alternative to AirPlay won’t be easy. At least all signs point to Google trying.

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JeremyJones 1 Like

Jared you are not quite up to speed on the latest tech. Android does have a strong AirPlay equivelent. It's called PlayFi.


@JeremyJones I'll admit t hat I didn't know about PlayFi. However, I don't think a third-party solution that only works with its own app and a couple of audio products is anywhere near the same thing. AirPlay is integrated throughout the OS (something that simply won't happen with a third-party solution like PlayFi) and supports video mirroring/streaming, whereas PlayFi will likely never see that type of integration with Google TV. If there is going to be a legitimate answer to AirPlay in Android, it needs to be something that Google builds itself.


@newmanjb @JeremyJones 

I've been using Airtight for video streaming from my Ipad to Google TV. since discovering it  I've moved my apple tv to my bedroom since I like the fact that google tv allows airplay options without the need to switch sources from digital cable to another device.

Your article brings up a huge problem with google tv, there is an app that can do pretty much any feature of an apple tv or similar product, whether it be Airtight, Able Remote, GTVBos, Plex, or PlayFi like Jeremy mentioned, but where is the marketing for it? I found all of these apps by chance, the average person will not put in the same effort and simply assume AitPlay is some unique feature only capable with an apple product.


@newmanjb @troy.every @JeremyJones 

You are more then right, Able Remote would be more fitting for a power user due to it's complexity, Airtight would be a better choice for someone looking for the simplicity of the AirPlay feature.  

I do think Google has a certain amount of responsibility at advertising these 3rd party apps though, much like every other company has some form of top ten or app of the day in their  market place.

Also, as you stated, integration is a must, and being that there are so many options that add AirPlay functionally it is somewhat ridiculous that they have not built this in. 

The reason I read your article and posted was that I assumed other Google TV owners might be looking for AirPlay options and come across this site.  As it stands I consider it a superior device to the Apple TV, but I am well aware that it is a far more complex and I would not recommend it to most, 99% of the time I would recommend Apple TV.. 

I hope Google takes your advice and builds a similar feature in to meet the needs of the mass market looking for that simplification, until then I'd expect future Google TV devices to be market failures. 


@troy.every @newmanjb @JeremyJones Fair point, but I don't think it's so much about marketing as is about overall user friendliness and lack of confusion. I've used Able Remote, and while it's a very powerful app, it requires a lot of customization and setup to get anywhere near the functionality of Airplay. Moreover, when the average consumer is looking at a choice between three or four third-party solutions, each with their own features and limitations, what's that person to do? It's not Google's job to pick one and market it above all the others, especially when none of them are ideal on their own.

The thing that makes Airplay work is that it's dead simple. Any app that has streaming video or audio likely has an Airplay button, so all you have to do is press it, no setup or customization required. That's essentially what Google has done with this YouTube functionality, and it would be wise to extend that capability to third-party developers.