Back in August, a ton of sites reported on a rumor that Apple was working on a revised version of AirPlay, called AirPlay Direct. This would enable iOS devices to create their own networks for connecting to AirPlay-enabled devices, removing the need for an existing, working WiFi connection. As the Apple keynote came and went, this rumor died, and I can only wonder when Apple is actually going to make this happen.
I’m a teacher student, and connecting my iPad mini to a projector for teaching is a very important feature of the device. I carry a VGA adapter for this, and while that works great, it does mean you’re physically connected to a cable that’s frankly ridiculously large an unwieldy, considering the iPad mini’s size. I would love to be able to go wireless, using an Apple TV and a third party HDMI to VGA adapter in order to get a wireless VGA-enabled box. I use some apps that have true dual screen support (i.e. display different things on the device’s screen compared to the connected display), and it would be amazing to be able to do that wirelessly.
Unfortunately, WiFi networks available in many schools are bugged down with so many issues that using those for such a connection is a game of chance. Between weird methods for authentication, sketchy signal strength in some areas, and little available bandwidth due to many users, it’s not something I would ever be able to depend on. I need a solution that works as long as I have a power outlet and a projector, and that’s not the Apple TV right now. AirPlay Direct would actually allow me to do that, but first Apple needs to implement it.
The irony here is that AirPlay Direct exists. If you have a mobile data capable iOS device with WiFi hotspot enabled, you can actually use that to create a local connection to your Apple TV. Unfortunately, hotspot functionality is currently not available on WiFi-only devices like my iPad mini, because you wouldn’t in theory have any need to share the network from such a device. It’s a happy accident that the hotspot functionality can do this, so that in itself is apparently not enough for it to be enabled on WiFi-only devices. That being said though, it does show how easy it would be for Apple to implement it, since it’s basically already available.
I also wouldn’t complain if Apple decided to make a dedicated AirPlay receiver. The Apple TV is almost that, but it’s still designed to be a set top box. I want something along the lines of the original Airport Express, a device designed to plug directly into the wall. It should generate its own WiFi network (rather than leave that to the iDevice), and be able to connect to an existing network either via WiFi or Ethernet, “forwarding” that signal to the device connected to it. That way, you’d have a local connection between the iDevice and the “AirPlay Express,” while still being able to access an existing network for internet connectivity. I think such a device would be a godsend for a lot of people, from travelers, to educators, to business people.
Whether or not Apple will release something like this is unknown, but one can always hope. If not, there’s always the hope that third party manufacturers will. The AirBridge might have failed to get funded on Kickstarter, but is still a great idea, and is apparently coming this year. I hope it does, as it’s a solution to the exact problem of AirPlay’s WiFi dependency. I guess we’ll just have to see what 2013 has to offer, but I really hope that this is the year that AirPlay becomes something I can personally use.