The Value of Mirroring

I’m a fan of  mirroring.  At least I’m a fan of the idea.  I’m not a heavy user. Actually, I don’t really use it at all.  I guess I’m not alone.  According to a recent study from NPD, only about seven percent of tablet or smartphone owners actually use screen sharing technologies.

NPD suggests the technology is simply new so consumers just haven’t adopted it yet.  Certainty this could be true.  We know adoption follows power laws so perhaps we just haven’t hit the point of accelerating adoption yet. There probably is some truth to this. According to NPD’s results,  less than 20 percent of those surveyed are even aware of the capabilities of screen sharing across devices.

But I think there is more.  I think the feature is largely a novelty today and we simply haven’t hit on any real killer applications. Sharing photos on a secondary screen is nice, but not necessary or sufficient. The step of  mirroring the personal device with the shared screen in order to share the content – the time cost to the user – isn’t worth the benefit.  One can simply just “share” the first screen of the tablet or smartphone. Of the seven percent who are using mirroring, about half are using it to share photos – though I would imagine this is something they have done instead of something they do regularly.

About three-quarters of those who actually use screen sharing technology are streaming video. This makes sense to me.  Utility/enjoyment of video consumption is probably correlated with screen size as viewing duration increases.  The longer you watch a given video, the more likely you might be to want to toggle it to a bigger screen.

NPD reported only about 20 percent reported sharing video games from a personal device to a shared screen. Again, I think this speaks to the way individuals are interacting with the content.  Playing a video game on a personal device like a smartphone or tablet is involved.  It is more interaction than simple consumption.  Toggling to a larger screen – one that is further from you in distance – probably doesn’t help you out when the input still has to go through the screen of the personal device.

There are two key points here. Mirroring makes sense if there are others with whom you want to share content and simply sharing the first screen of the tablet or smartphone is cumbersome. Secondly, mirroring makes sense if those who are consuming the content on the shared screen aren’t involved in the input/manipulation of the content. Because one still needs to do control the content using the personal device, mirroring only really makes sense if those who are viewing the content on the shared screen don’t want to also control it on the personal screen.

So what are the killer applications for screen mirroring?  Education is probably one.  I can see potential if there is a tablet on every desk and the teacher can toggle an individual screen either to her own screen or to a screen in front of the classroom for broader sharing across the entire class.  I think gaming does make sense – when multiple players are involved and the personal screen can be used in conjunction with the shared screen. In other words, the tablet becomes a true second screen with additional information or the  shared screen has unique information that is relevant to the personal screen.