Yesterday Apple announced the launch of OS X Mountain Lion, the next iteration of the ever-evolving Mac operating system. It’s got a gaggle of new features, but by far the most intriguing is the ability to do AirPlay Mirroring between a Mac and Apple TV. Has this small tweak just brought Apple’s ‘hobby’ of a set-top box into the big leagues?
For those unsure, AirPlay Mirroring allows you to wirelessly send whatever’s onscreen on your Apple device to your Apple TV (and ergo to your TV). AirPlay first rolled out for iPhones and iPads to let you share photos on the big screen, but soon evolved to ‘Mirroring’, which lets the iPad 2 fire games and apps (but not Safari web browsing, unless your Apple TV is jailbroken) to your TV.
The move to allow full AirPlay Mirroring between Macs and Apple TV is substantial because it essentially brings a whole raft of online content to the set-top box in an easy, simple way.
Apple TV as it stands is struggling for content. Apple’s always branded the device a ‘hobby’, and that shows in the range (or lack thereof) of content available. While the occasional live 3am Paul McCartney gig go some way to making up for it, the list of services available is disappointingly short.
This is especially so for the UK box, which doesn’t even have the BBC iPlayer, despite all the major games consoles and new web-based set-top boxes offering it as standard.
In the UK the £99 Apple TV box currently offers access to iTunes movies, your iTunes content, YouTube, Flickr and not an awful lot else.
AirPlay between it and Mac computers will drastically change that, giving the service a real shot in the arm. Anything you can view on your Mac, from basic web pages to the BBC iPlayer to Netflix, Blinkbox and more, alongside premium Mac games, will all suddenly be able to live on your big screen via Apple TV.
While beaming iPlayer content via AirPlay was made possible via the official app in December last year, people without an iPhone or iPad, or who want those devices to remain free while viewing now have another, far more feature-rich source for content.
But, hang on… Isn’t this AirPlay addition just turning the Apple TV box into a replacement for the Mini Display to HDMI cable? Well, in a way. But that’s an incredibly useful tool. Being able to sit with a Mountain Lion MacBook on your lap and fire its onscreen contents to your TV sans wires will be incredibly liberating for many Mac users.
More to the point, it will suddenly transform Apple TV from a device people might have bought without really knowing why, into one that gets used every day. It will become an invaluable tool for Mac users.
…Which is a weird thing for Apple to have done. Apple’s just completely flipped what the device is for. The biggest criticism being levied at Apple TV is its lack of content. But maybe Apple don’t actually want it to be seen as a content source; maybe Apple just wants it to act as nothing more than a wireless bridge between your Apple devices and your TV. Maybe that was always the plan?
While we all wait for Apple to launch its rumoured HD TV sets, the ability to feed the Apple TV set top box content from (nearly) all other Apple devices seems like a move to give the existing box a leg-up.
Airplay Mirroring won’t be the reason for anyone to want to buy Apple TV if they don’t already have a Mac or an iPad 2, but for those that do and those that already have the set-top box sitting beneath their TV, it’s a completely transformative update.
It’s time to stop looking at Apple TV as a source of content. It fails miserably at that job. What it is, is a tremendously useful wireless handshake between your other Apple tech and your plain old TV. With this indispensable new skill, it’s managed to turn your non-Apple HD TV set into a Mac – bringing content galore with it for the ride.