The Untapped Potential Of Dual Screen AirPlay Games & Apps

What do you know about Dual Screen AirPlay games? Chances are, you don't know much about it and might not even know what on earth I'm talking about. It's a feature of AirPlay - the protocol that allows iOS devices to stream audio and video to an Apple TV. More specifically, Dual Screen AirPlay is the ability for app developers to use a connected Apple TV as a secondary screen, displaying different content on the TV as to what is on the iOS device. In theory it's an awesome feature that has significant potential. In reality there haven't been many examples of its implementation, let alone many that did so in a unique and exciting way.

So today I look at where Dual Screen AirPlay has been used, focusing on games in particular and then look to why it hasn't been as widely deployed. I'll also touch upon the problems with its implementation, where it could be improved and lastly a brief discussion on its potential in video apps as well.

Dual Screen AirPlay Apps Here Today

A big reason why I wanted to write this article is because it's a good feature in iOS that simply hasn't been adopted by developers much at all. I literally found less than 10 games that utilise Dual Screen AirPlay and whilst there may be a few more, I suspect I couldn't find them because they simply didn't promote that feature. Nevertheless, lets quickly run through some of the games I found and how they use the feature.

Real Racing 2

  • First game that really demonstrated the functionality of Dual Screen AirPlay
  • Steer with iOS device which also displays track and some info. TV displays the actual race and some info.
  • Generally good performance, good graphical detail and minimal lag - provided you have a solid network connection. I still ran into occasional moments of lag which can get frustrating.
  • In my opinion, the most solid integration of Dual Screen AirPlay available today.
  • View on App Store
  • Screenshot

N.O.V.A. 3

  • Controls on iPad, look at TV for all the action
  • Terrific graphical detail (best out of these apps) but lag was a big issue for me, particularly in moments of intense battle it would struggle to keep up.
  • It was also particularly difficult to control, not only because you're using a touch screen for a first-person shooter, but also because you're now not looking at the iOS device but a TV.
  • It's a good game to show off the potential of Dual Screen AirPlay, but in practice it just isn't enjoyable. You need a better control system (or an actual controller) and there needs to be way less lag.
  • View on App Store
  • Screenshot

SketchParty TV

  • The only game I found that uses Dual Screen AirPlay as a requirement. Multiplayer game that is a riff on Pictionary
  • Players take turns drawing various things on the iPad whilst the other team of players looks at the TV and tries to guess what the other team is drawing.
  • Federico Viticci recently gave this game a short review.
  • A well done and unique implementation of Dual Screen AirPlay that certainly highlights the potential for multiplayer games using two screens.
  • View on App Store
  • Screenshot

Ducati Challenge HD

  • Featured on Apple's website as an example of Dual Screen AirPlay.
  • Very similar in implementation to Real Racing 2, but I had more lag issues with this game and the graphical detail wasn't quite as good.
  • A good but not great implementation of Dual Screen AirPlay
  • View on App Store
  • Screenshot

MetalStorm: Wingman

  • Featured on Apple's website as an example of Dual Screen AirPlay.
  • Standard implementation of controls on the iPad, with some additional information. TV displays the actual game content and some information too.
  • A criticism I have is of the iPad display which has a completely superfluous graphic of a jet fighter cockpit which can obscure the actual information you need to quickly see. Look at N.O.V.A. 3  or Real Racing 2 for a better design.
  • Another implementation of Dual Screen AirPlay that is average.
  • View on App Store
  • Screenshot

The Incident

  • One of my favourite implementations of Dual Screen AirPlay, you play on the TV and control with an iOS device. But because the controls are just tilting the device and tapping the screen it's simple and works great.
  • Only problem is that you need two iOS devices - one to stream to the Apple TV and another to act as the controller.
  • View on App Store
  • Screenshot

Zombie Gunship

  • Most of the above games use the iOS device a control device and don't do much visually on the screen, Zombie Gunship does. It still has controls, buttons and info, but it also displays a radar-like view which complements the camera view displayed on the TV.
  • It isn't a perfect example of Dual Screen AirPlay but it's one of the better examples, in large part because it's something different and puts both displays to use (even if the iPad is still secondary).
  • View on App Store
  • Screenshot

The Walking Dead

  • I'm hesitant to include this game because it doesn't actually display different content on the two displays. It simply mirrors the iPad and then stretches it to a widescreen resolution.
  • It looks bad stretched and even worse, my 3rd generation iPad just couldn't cope, with major lag not only on the TV but also on my iPad. It made the experience worse.
  • I bring it up because if you've ever played this game, you know it could work well with a Dual Screen AirPlay set-up. Have the controls and the action options on the iPad and watch the game on your TV.
  • View on App Store
  • Screenshot

Developer Perspective and What's Really Holding Dual Screen AirPlay Back

To get some additional perspective and insight on Dual Screen AirPlay I contacted the developer of SketchParty TV, Matt Braun, and asked him a wide range of questions. Something that I was particularly curious about was how difficult the implementation was. I had presumed that because so few games used it, that it must also be a difficult to add. However Braun told me that Apple has made it "fairly easy to incorporate AirPlay", involving just a few API calls when a screen is detected, when it disconnects and then using it to display different content. Matt Comi, the developer of The Incident also told me, in a brief Twitter conversation, that when a TV is connected, it can literally be "treated as if it were a second display attached by a cable".

So whilst it may not be that complicated to implement Dual Screen AirPlay in development, it is bizarrely hidden from the average user to turn on. Apple has, bafflingly, not given developers any way to add a Dual Screen AirPlay button inside their apps - users must (themselves) open the multi-tasking tray, swipe to the AirPlay icon, select the Apple TV and turn on Mirroring.

What might be really holding Dual Screen AirPlay back is the number of people that actually have an Apple TV and can use the feature. Sales of the Apple TV have been increasing, Apple sold more than 2 million in the last fiscal quarter - but if you compare that to the iPhone (47.8 million) and iPad (22.9 million), its a paltry number. In total, Apple has sold a little over 10 million Apple TVs that support Dual Screen AirPlay (the 2nd and 3rd generation models). Compare that to the 500 million iOS devices sold, where we could assume (extremely conservatively) that 300 million iOS devices that support AirPlay and are still in use today, and you'll see that the potential number of consumers that can use Dual Screen AirPlay is just a fraction of the iOS customer base.

But 10 million potential customers is still a fairly sizeable potential market - if only there wasn't a huge awareness problem with Dual Screen AirPlay as well. Apple's only promotion of this feature is on the AirPlay section of the Apple TV page on Apple's website. With other features that have been exclusive to iOS devices, Apple has put effort into creating sections on their App Store to feature apps that use it - think iCloud, Game Center, Newsstand, etc. Whilst Apple has featured AirPlay apps in the past, it was focused on the standard video or audio streaming, not these Dual Screen AirPlay apps.

Graham: What is the biggest challenge in getting consumers to use Dual Screen AirPlay?

Matt Braun: It's still an awareness problem. For it to become a bigger deal it's really going to need some more attention from Apple.

Improving Dual Screen AirPlay

The small collection of games that support Dual Screen AirPlay are largely disappointing, but the few good implementations of Dual Screen AirPlay (Real Racing, SketchParty TV & The Incident) lead me to believe that this technology still has huge potential that hasn't been tapped yet.

Apple:

  • Give developers the ability to add an Dual Screen AirPlay button inside their apps so users don't have to go through the needlessly convoluted process of doing it via the multi-tasking tray
  • Feature Dual Screen AirPlay apps in a collection on the App Store
  • Encourage developers to utilise this feature (speak about it during a keynote and/or WWDC session)
  • Create a little "app" on the Apple TV that educates customers about AirPlay and highlights great apps with AirPlay functionality
  • To reduce lag issues, could future iOS devices/Apple TV's use a better technology for streaming between the two? Perhaps something like what the Wii U GamePad uses.

Developers:

  • There are countless unique games that could use both the Apple TV and iOS devices like SketchParty TV. Do a good job at a unique game and you'll be rewarded
  • Be careful by using the iOS device as a controller: users will be looking at the TV so it's harder to hit any buttons on a flat touch screen.
  • First-Person shooters aren't likely to work well with such a feature
  • If the iOS device is a controller try to make it somewhat useful (see Zombie Gunship) but don't clutter it with superfluous graphics (see MetalStorm: Wingman)
  • If you're making a racing game, this feature should be a no-brainer. Real Racing 2 and Ducati Challenge both demonstrate it can be done.
  • Promote your support for Dual Screen AirPlay: it's a differentiator that could make the difference between your app being interesting to your app being a must-buy.
  • Try the Wii U: some really fun game mechanics could easily be brought to Dual Screen AirPlay

Video Apps

I've focused almost entirely on games using Dual Screen AirPlay, but this feature also has enormous potential in apps that serve video - whether it be YouTube and Vimeo or one of the countless catch-up services from TV providers or even a streaming video app (*cough* iTunes *cough*). Tablets and smartphones are already being used frequently while watching TV (Pew found 52% of adult cell owners did so recently for "engagement, diversion or interaction with other people" whilst watching TV). But at the moment people are using other apps, why not bring some of that functionality back into the very app users might be using with AirPlay? Here are just some ideas about what could be integrated into the iOS device app whilst the Apple TV is AirPlaying the video content:

  • Video description and other relevant information (cast, rating, etc)
  • Viewer comments
  • Facebook and Twitter posting integration (simple with iOS 6)
  • Twitter hashtag streaming
  • Interactive content: Polls, Quizes, Trivia, Voting, etc
  • Behind the scenes info
  • Advertising
  • Videos to watch next

Conclusion

AirPlay is the feature that turns the unassuming black hockey-puck box that is the Apple TV into something interesting. Dual Screen AirPlay is a feature that should be making the Apple TV something great, and yet, so far it has been a missed opportunity for both parties. iOS games are missing an opportunity to differentiate and be unique, whilst other iOS apps (particularly video service apps) could also benefit from supporting the more advanced AirPlay functionality.

The future of TVs will undoubtedly involve a close meshing between them and smartphones and tablets. With its hockey puck Apple TV, Apple already has the beginnings of this meshing thanks to AirPlay. Dual Screen AirPlay is the next level up in the connection and there will no doubt be further advances of AirPlay in the months and years to come. It's just a pity that today, nearly 18 months after the feature was introduced, Dual Screen AirPlay hasn't taken off like it could have.