November 2, 2010 at 11:58 am

Apple AirPlay Will Change Everything… Again

Apple has 28 days to make good on its promise to upgrade its entire line of iOS devices — iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch — with a new operating system that will give the apps running on those devices the ability to stream audio and video directly to Apple TVs, and by extension, televisions and the nice sound systems connected to them.

For music fans who use Apple stuff, this iOS 4.2 AirPlay feature will be a landmark moment that unites Apple’s smartphones, tablets, portable media players, set-top box, and iTunes software with apps that grab audio and video from the internet, playing it all on the best screen and, equally important for music fans, what are often the best speakers in the house.

News about Apple upgrading its iOS devices might  might seem suitable only for the Apple fanboy crowd, rating about as much interest as Steve Jobs deciding not to wait in line at a restaurant. But this precise behavior, this way of sending entertainment to consumer electronics devices in the home through the phone, is headed to Android, Blackberry, Nokia, Microsoft and other smartphone platforms because that’s what always happens.

Apple, for all its arguable faults, created the smartphone the way the world understands it today, and now it’s helping bridge the gap between consumer electronics and the internet in a way that people will actually use. I just set up an Apple TV, and it took about 90 seconds — and remember, AirPlay will connect directly to supported speakers, too.

Companies have been solving that same problem of connecting internet content to home electronics for years, as they had with the dozen or so portable MP3 players that were released before the iPod. That was before Apple swallowed the U.S. MP3 player market (nearly) whole by making portable digital music so much easier — not necessarily better, just easier. The company is set to do the same in connected audio and video for the home, thanks to this impending AirPlay feature, which solves a problem others have been banging their heads against for over a decade.

In addition to Netflix and several other video services, countless music apps and services will benefit from this groundbreaking wireless entertainment connection within the home. Of those, YouTube will certainly be a promising option, with its massive catalog of music. You probably can’t try it for yourself today, even if you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and an Apple TV, because it’s available only in a beta release of iOS for developers, but Steve Jobs demonstrated AirPlay on stage a couple months ago.

Pretty much the only way Apple could screw this up is to grant its own apps access to AirPlay, while denying it to others.

But that’s precisely what Apple did to Google’s YouTube, according to MacStories, which has been testing an early developer version of iOS 4.2, and noticed in October that Apple had blocked YouTube’s ability to stream from iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch to Apple TV, and by extension, television sets and sound systems.

Thankfully, Apple just restored YouTube’s access to AirPlay, notes MacStories, which includes several screenshots of YouTube successfully streaming to a television from an iPad.

Because speculating about Apple’s motives is practically the second national past-time, as far as geeks are concerned, and the World Series is over, I’ll let one fly as to why Apple would have reinstated YouTube’s ability to jump from an iPhone to a television: Steve Jobs realizes how important AirPlay is, and knows he only has one chance to make a first impression on consumers.

If consumers start to think of Google TV as the one that lets you run whatever apps you want and Apple TV as the one that blocks competing apps (including one of the best video and music resources on the planet) Google’s Android could own the mobile-to-TV market the same way Apple owned the smartphone until recently.

For consumers and music fans, it almost doesn’t matter who wins in the marketshare battle between Apple, Google, and the others. One way or the other, Apple is set to revolutionize home listening later this month the same way it did portable listening nine years ago.