For the past week, the major news stories about Apple's iOS platform has been the release of iOS 6 and Apple's controversial decision to bundle its own Maps app with iOS rather than the Google-based app that was included in previous releases. Under the cover of those announcements, Apple also pushed out an update to the software that runs its Apple TV set-top boxes. That update transforms the Apple TV -- which is an iOS device -- into a serious business and education tool.
Apple's AirPlay allows Macs and and iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad to wirelessly stream content to devices like AirPlay-enabled speakers, Macs on a local network, and Apple TV. iTunes and a number of iOS apps include AirPlay as an option for both audio and video. The most recent Macs and iOS devices, however, can go further and mirror the entire display of a Mac, iPhone, or iPad.
AirPlay and AirPlay mirroring has a lot of consumer uses, like iOS gameplay and the ability to watch any web video regardless of format (if you're using a Mountain Lion Mac). But they also have significant business implications.
The wireless nature of AirPlay and the extremely small footprint of the Apple TV device -- about the same size as an iPhone -- make the Apple TV an excellent presentation tool. Since the Apple TV can connect to any television, display, or projector that supports HDMI, it can be used in a wide range of locations and contexts. A compact $60 adapter allows the Apple TV to connect to any device with a VGA port, making the Apple TV an option in virtually any office, conference room, or classroom.
The small footprint and easy setup mean that the Apple TV is an incredibly mobile solution as well. When used with an iPhone (or iPod touch), the entire presentation setup can easily fit in a jacket pocket -- that's a far cry from carting a traditional laptop bag loaded with cables and a portable projector. If used with a portable Mac like the MacBook Air, the Apple TV can function as a presentation device even if there is no Wi-Fi network available. The Mac can create an ad-hoc network to which the Apple TV can connect to stream content.
Last week's update offers some enterprise features, which may very well help one the most consumer-oriented of Apple's products become common in business and education.
- Apple Configurator integration. Easily the biggest addition is that the Apple TV can now be configured and deployed using the free Apple Configurator utility, which allows IT professionals to configure basic Wi-Fi network connectivity, plus more advanced options like RADIUS authentication and proxy servers.
- Passcode support. Apple TVs now have the option to require a user to enter a passcode when connecting and using AirPlay.
- Support for multiple iTunes accounts. This allows different users to display iTunes content associated with their individual iTunes accounts, a particularly useful feature in education or training scenarios.
While over-the-air management isn't an option at this time, Apple or third-parties may develop such support in the future. Additional monitoring of Apple TVs may also be possible with future releases of mobile management solutions. Regardless, many Apple TV deployments in schools, conference rooms, and other enterprise environments will be in fixed locations and won't require a large amount of IT management once they're installed.
The move also shows that Apple has broader plans for its free Apple Configurator utility. With iOS 6, the company is requiring the use of Apple Configurator's Supervise feature in order to gain access to the full range of iOS 6 mobile management options.