There’s almost no reason to buy an Apple TV. The set-top box doesn’t support as many services as other devices, comes with the world’s worst remote, and costs more than competitive products. Its only redeeming quality is its ability to stream songs, videos, and games via AirPlay, a proprietary protocol that allows iOS and Mac users to push content to other devices over a WiFi network. And even that isn’t perfect, as manufacturers must pay a licensing fee to use the protocol — which raises the price of their own products — and are unable to support Android, Windows, or BlackBerry devices. AirPlay is by Apple, for Apple, and that probably isn’t going to change.
Enter MagicPlay, an open-source, royalty-free platform from doubleTwist that promises to bring a similar experience to other platforms. DoubleTwist, which also offers a music library syncing service called AirSync, an online radio service called MagicRadio, and a music-focused alarm clock application for Android devices, intends to use MagicPlay as a bridge between its existing ecosystem and the sheer number of devices used to find and play music.
DoubleTwist’s goal is to become an integral aspect of the media side of the Internet of Things, which has turned everything from cars and videogame consoles to speakers and television sets into digital music players. “On the Web we have the HTTP language that enables billions of pages of content. When it came to something like music there wasn’t a protocol like that,” says doubleTwist co-founder Monique Farantzos. “So we’re positioning MagicPlay as a protocol that can enable that for a new market of connected devices that is basically exploding right now.”
The trouble with these connected products, Farantzos says, is that there isn’t a good way to stream content from Android or Windows devices. Bluetooth doesn’t offer the proper sound quality, and is often limited in its capabilities. Other product-makers relied on proprietary protocols as well, making them little better than AirPlay. So a number of manufacturers, which had been trying to get their products on the shelves of Best Buy and other electronics retailers, approached doubleTwist and asked them to build a solution that would allow them to attract customers who owned smartphones without Apple’s logo on the back.
DoubleTwist was the right company to solve this problem. Its other co-founder, Jon Lech Johansen, had previously cracked the encryption on AirTunes, the audio-only predecessor to AirPlay. He believed that these services and protocols should be open to everyone instead of restricted to Apple’s own products — or products made by companies that could afford Apple’s licensing costs — and so he opened ‘em up to everyone. MagicPlay is a continuation of that cracking, and of a subsequent lunch that Johansen and Farantzos had with Steve Jobs.
Back in 2006, according to Farantzos, she and Johansen had met with the Apple co-founder to discuss the technology industry. “During the conversation Steve Jobs said that open-source was dead,” Farantzos says. “So in a way we wanted to prove him wrong with this announcement.”