Admittedly, Airplay is probably the most useful and important features on the Apple TV. And yet, it’s also the feature that consistently disappoints me. Being able to mirror your iPad or Macbook screen on your TV is wonderful, but the only time I ever use it is to show short video clips and photo streams to a room full of people.
However, Vidora’s newly released iPad app actually uses Airplay intelligently, like a natural extension of its video discovery and curation service. Seriously, Vidora’s Airplay integration is how I’d imagine what the Apple TV’s UX would be like if Apple wasn’t scared of cannibalizing iTunes video sales and started sorting video content based on making it easier for users to find things. (Sort of like a what would happen in a bizarro-world where Woz was calling all the shots at Apple.) Also, Vidora’s Airplay integration means you don’t have to use the Apple remote, since all navigation happens via your iPad.
“We wanted to design a service that made set-top boxes obsolete,” Vidora co-founder Alex Holub said in an interview with VentureBeat. To clarify, by obsolete Holub means that everything about the Apple TV can, and should, be replaced with the exception of the set-top box’s Airplay screen sharing. “Everything you need is already being done, or can be done through your tablet already.”
Holub said it makes sense to cut out the “middle man” — or software used in set-top boxes and smart TVs — when designing a second-screen video experience. I didn’t entirely understand how true his observation was until giving it some thought. If I have only 15 minutes to relax before running off to an interview, I’m more likely to reach for my iPad than my TV and set-top box remotes. Why? Because my iPad is up and running in seconds when I want to watch video. My TV/Apple TV requires more patience — waiting for apps to load, shuffling through endless rows of video thumbnails, and squinting while trying to read show descriptions from my couch because the font size is too small.
As for Vidora’s iPad app, it weaves videos from many of the most popular streaming video services, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Creepster, Fandor, and FlixFling, as well as iTunes digital video library. New users are prompted to run through a quick process of selecting at least 10 of your favorite movies or TV shows from several different genres, which serves as the initial template for Vidora’s recommendation engine. You can then see a wall of videos you can mark with a thumbs up or down, add to a universal watchlist, and see a list of sources for where you’re able to watch that video. For instance, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is available on all the big services (as it should, being the best Trek spin-off ever) Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, and iTunes. Clicking one of those sources pushes you to their native iOS apps, and then to your television if you have mirroring turned on through you Apple TV. YouTube apps and a few other video services like Yahoo and VICE can play from the Vidora app itself, too.
Vidora’s business model doesn’t charge people who use its service or to download the iPad app. The startup plans to generate revenue by forging deals with publishers for prominent placement within Vidora’s video curation and discovery service. Publishers who pay to have their videos on Vidora are bringing both content and video ads that run in between, and the more people who watch its content the more ad revenue it can generate.
That’s not to say Vidora isn’t without set-backs. For example, video quality is sacrificed when mirroring your iPad screen through Apple TV. And annoyingly, Amazon Prime Instant video still lacks integration with Airplay, so you’ll need to view that from your iPad or just watch something else. Also, the iPad is in use so you won’t be doing any multitasking without banishing the video from your TV screen. (This seems like less of an issue since the majority of people would just grab their smartphone instead.) Another thing that may seem like a flaw at first is the lack of support for importing queues and watchlists from Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu. You’ll need to create a new watch list as you find things through Vidora’s app. (The good thing about this is that there isn’t any need to constantly sync the queues/watchlists that are still available on each separate service. In my experience, the video curation services that offered to sync up all your streaming accounts ended up causing more confusion than order.)
That said, most of the cons for Vidora’s Airplay experience are the Apple TV’s fault — meaning there’s room for improvement. Holub said the startup has plans to develop an Android version of Vidora devices that support Miracast — an Airplay-like technology that can be added to all other devices, like TVs. As impress as I was with Vidora’s iPad / Apple TV second-screen integration, I’d really like to see what the service can do using a Nexus 10 and a Miracast-enabled TV. Holub also stated that the startup will be adding additional video services and content publishing partners in the near future.
Founded in 2013, the San Francisco, Calif.-based startup has 10 employees who previously worked as engineers for Ooyala, the enterprise-level video services to publishers that want an easy way to scale their video content on multiple platforms, devices, and video codex. Holub declined to share Vidora’s funding history, but the startup’s website lists Core Ventures Group and Interwest Partners as investors.
Check out the gallery of screenshots embedded below for a closer look at Vidora’s new iPad app.