iPad AirPlay screen mirroring — the ability to wirelessly display the iPad’s screen on an external monitor or projector — turns an iPad from a personal device into a true teaching tool. It gives the teacher freedom to direct a lesson from anywhere in the room without being tethered to the front desk.
One of the primary reasons Android hasn’t yet taken off in education is the lack of this type of functionality. During a recent research project at our school it was clear that the inability to share the screen of an Android tablet was a huge negative for teachers using the devices in class. So, is there an Android alternative to AirPlay? Yes!
Miracast is an open standard for broadcasting the display of one device to another. It was created by the WiFi Aliance — the same trade
organisation that ratifies WiFi standards, and is supported by many of the largest hardware manufacturers and operating system developers. Miracast is set to become an international standard and is already being built into many new TVs, smartphones, projectors, set top boxes, and tablets. At the time of writing there are more than 150 Miracast certified devices passing through the US’s Federal Communications Commission before they will be available for sale.
While Apple’s AirPlay works very well the main disadvantage is that it is proprietary — it only works with Apple sanctioned hardware and will likely never be built into the hardware of competitors. Miracast will work with most new hardware sold so, if you replace a classroom projector the chances are Miracast will already be built in, no additional purchase or software configuration needed.
Another difference between Miracast and AirPlay is that the former creates a direct peer-to-peer to the device to which it is streaming. AirPlay on the other hand requires both devices to be connected to the same wireless network. The advantage of Miracast is that it doesn’t put any additional load on your wireless network, and requires little to no configuration.
But Miracast is much more than just screen mirroring. It allows applications to show different content on an external screen so, for example, a presentation could be broadcast to a projector but controlled with a different interface on the transmitting tablet.
So, how can you use Miracast today?
Well, without a lot of technical faff, you can’t. While devices like the Nexus 4 smartphone and the Nexus 10 tablet are Miracast certified, support for receivers is not widespread in the market. Also, while the Nexus 10 hardware technically supports Miracast the necessary operating system software is not yet available to enable it.
]UPDATE – August 2013!
As of Android 4.3 Mircast is supported on Nexus 4, Nexus 7 (2013), and Nexus 10
Over the next 12 months we will see a surge in Miracast certified devices. Companies like Panasonic, Netgear, Samsung, Roku, LG, Intel, Qualcomm, and many more have plans to release, or have already released, Miracast certified hardware. The support for Miracast will make it an industry standard technology resulting in greater innovation, cheaper hardware, and greater support from manufacturers. It’s these points that schools should factor in when making long-term strategic decisions to do with mobile devices.