As Apple goes, so goes Google, where smartphones are concerned. The company has made great strides with its Android operating system by taking an Apple invention, the iPhone, and putting something like it within the grasp of a variety of hardware and cellphone carrier partners. Apple’s most significant move this month — its rollout of AirPlay to app developers and electronics manufacturers, allowing smartphone music to play wirelessly on home stereos — is now ripe for similar treatment at the hands of Google.
Apple AirPlay represents a sea change where music is concerned. Today’s smartphone apps are capable of things that never would have been possible with a traditional MP3 player, like streaming music from Pandora and other services that cater to a listener’s every whim. Now, AirPlay can put those incredibly powerful music sources on the best speakers in the house, making iPhone music apps a real, simple option for home listening.
But as with many other things Apple, AirPlay is a proprietary standard. Denon/Marantz and other companies that make AirPlay-compatible speakers and sound systems must work directly with Apple in order to do so, and will almost certainly be subject to the same sorts of licensing fees already paid by any company that makes iPod and iPhone accessories capable of connecting to Apple’s proprietary iPod, iPhone and iPad docks.
Just as it open-sourced the iPhone concept with Android, Google could open-source the AirPlay concept, giving itself a key advantage over its Cupertino rival. Google announced in October that it is doing something like this, with a feature called Fling that will enable users to stream audio and video from Android phones to Google TV. However, that misses the point: The real opportunity here is to create a wireless entertainment standard for zapping music and other digital entertainment from smartphones and other app-running devices to home stereos, powered speakers, car radios and so on — not just to Google TVs.
Apple has already figured this out. Will Google follow its lead?
Evolver.fm covered every Apple AirPlay-compatible speaker system we could track down earlier this month, finding that Denon/Marantz was first out of the gate, due to its early behind-closed-doors work with Apple on those devices. Now that the cat is out of the bag, home audio manufacturers will line up to implement Apple’s proprietary AirPlay standard too, the same way they did with iPod-docking speakers. As they did with iPod-connected speakers, manufacturers will almost certainly have to pay for the privilege of connecting to Apple’s devices wirelessly.
Google, with its deep pockets and predatory view of Apple’s iOS ecosystem, could easily offer its own AirPlay-style protocol for free, open-sourcing it so that any speaker manufacturer would be able to add Google Fling without paying a licensing fee. At that point, Google’s entertainment platform would become the cheaper and possibly more attractive option for both manufacturer and consumers, while offering the same features pioneered by Apple — again.