There’s no great way to watch a YouTube clip with other people. You know what I mean. Someone has this hilarious video that you just have to see. So you awkwardly crowd around a computer, neck strained, anxious to know when you’re supposed to laugh. Worse still, the clip is on someone’s phone, so you’re sharing a four-inch screen along with the olfactory leftovers of whatever your friend ate for lunch.
Plair is a new app-cessory that aims to fix the problem of sharing digital media with friends. Crafted by NewDealDesign, Plair is a Wi-Fi-enabled USB dongle that can connect any smartphone to any television (that has a USB port). Through an iOS or Android app (or a web-based portal on a laptop), users can share photos and videos stored on their phones or in the cloud (including YouTube, College Humor clips, CNN, and Vimeo).
"I think attention span in the mobile environment is considerably lower," NewDealDesign President Gadi Amit tells Co.Design. "Within the flow of social interaction—business context or personal context—you have maybe a few seconds to suggest interacting with video. Mobile is a completely different setting than inviting people to watch the Super Bowl."
So above all else, Plair was designed to be fast, to connect a cellphone to a television within 30 seconds.
On the hardware end, this was challenging because Plair had to instantly fit TVs that could be 27 inches or 80 inches. The solution was a magnet in the device that sticks to the front of any TV, no matter the size. On the software end, that 30-second limit was even more challenging, since the app had to juggle local and cloud content from a slew of providers. It’s a problem so large that Microsoft, Google, and Apple are all struggling with it today, no doubt bucking heads with content providers in the process.
As a solution, Plair’s app does a few things: It list popular channels in thumbnails, but probably more important, it offers a very casual search engine that will scour multiple sources for whatever you want to watch. So rather than search "Gangnam Style" on YouTube, Plair appears to search YouTube and College Humor at once, allowing you to pull the original or the Mitt Romney-style parody without much effort. You can also just "play all" of a list if you just want to get the party started.
"For us, the mantra was ease of use, though that’s kind of a misnomer in this space. No one is delivering everything," Amit admits. "There’s going to be a situation of some confusion until there are two to three big alliances, but eventually there will be some crossover and interoperability. If you look back 10 years ago to how browsers used to be, and some browsers didn’t run some sites. Today, it’s a nonissue because all browsers handle all content."
Indeed, no video service is perfect just yet, but Plair has definitely solved part of the problem. A dongle that can connect any phone to any TV, instantly, without messing with set-top boxes or mitigating standards like AirPlay or Smartglass, is a huge step.
Plair is in beta now. Look for it to hit the market in early 2013.