December 21, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Qualcomm Subsidiary Skifta Connects Music Apps to Home Electronics

Apple AirPlay already connects music apps to speakers and sound systems wirelessly, creating a big opportunity for the music industry and music fans alike to make today’s music sound better. But to do so, in classic Apple fashion, Steve Jobs and company have taken a problem for which a widely-accepted standard already exists and created a proprietary solution that only works with Apple products like Apple TV, Airport Express, or products from Apple’s hardware partners.

Skifta, an alternative to AirPlay from the Digital Living Room Network Alliance (DLNA), relies on an earlier standard (Universal Plug-and-Play, or UPnP) to allow entertainment devices on the same home network to work together. A classic example involves picture frames grabbing photos from a networked folder, but music is also a big part of that standard.

Skifta is part of Qualcomm Service Lab, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qualcomm, which was created to help people access their photos, music and videos in other people’s houses by bridging the gap between your home network and theirs. But its most powerful application could be its ability to send media (including music and music apps in the form of plug-ins) on Android smartphones to your own home stereos and televisions — somewhat similar to the way Apple’s AirPort lets music apps be heard on sound systems within the home.

Much as Apple TV ($99) adds the ability to play music from AirPlay-enabled music apps, Western Digital’s WD TV Live Network-ready HD Media Player (also $99) allows any home entertainment system to play music from other DLNA-enabled devices, including Android smartphones with Skifta installed. The company allows Android app developers to create plug-ins that add their content to Skifta, thereby allowing it to be played wirelessly on any DLNA-compliant device.

To date, the Skifta Android app supports Facebook, Picassa, Soma.fm, and a few other partners, with Napster and Thumbplay set to come on-board “soon.” But even without Skifta, DLNA provides a non-Apple-controlled standard for wirelessly zapping music and other files from your phone to your home electronics equipment.

Skifta director of product development Ed Smith told Evolver.fm that this particular solution for sending smartphone content to televisions and stereos came about as a team at Qualcomm was focused on another problem: allowing people to access content on their home networks from outside of the home.

“One of the Qualcomm R&D teams was looking around at the ‘connected home’ technologies that are out there — UPnP (Universal Plug-and-Play) and DLNA (Digital Living Room Network Alliance).More and more device manufacturers were putting this in their TVs, networks audio devices, picture frames, game consoles, etc… within the home network. What we were interested in is how does that technology work outside of that environment.

“One of the big eureka moments for us was when we decided we wanted to put this technology in the mobile phone, it really became apparent that this was an ideal place, first of all, because it’s a very personal device [and] you can tailor your media to yourself, but also because your device is always with you, and becomes an ideal remote control.”

Skifta plans to launch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, but is available now for Android phones, allowing them to send music and other files to any of thousands of devices, even as Apple FairPlay enters the market as a proprietary standard.