They're everywhere, when you think about it, the televisions. Screens are increasingly pervasive in public urban spaces - transmitting news, gossip, advertisements at us as we go. Usually they do so silently, not wishing to compete with the ambient drone of the city. What if it was possible to home in on a single screen and somehow hear what it had to say? Well apparently this is all possible now thanks to an iOS and Android app from the Airborne Media Group that it calls Audioair. It's a bold pitch, but what does the small print say?
The first limitation is that a Wi-Fi connection is required in order to stream the audio. That isn't surprising. The second, rather more fundamental limitation is that the venue has to be a designated "Audioair subscriber location". In that respect the system is, functionally at least, a little like an induction loop system to aid the hearing impaired - its a system entirely courtesy of the host venue. Indeed, its creators describe it as a "listening aid" on the product webpage.
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There's little wonder, then, that the app itself is free to the user. Venues (or preferably chains from Airborne's point of view) will subscribe to the Audioair system in an effort to enhance the service they offer to customers. Airborne frame this as "optimizing" the already sizable investment a venue splashes out on the screens themselves. Letting customers listen to the action (sports is perhaps the most obvious content) without polluting the aural space is the next logical step.
If you want to try out the system you may be out of luck. Unless you're a citizen of Durango, Colorado or Albuquerque, New Mexico, that is. Based in Durango, it stands to reason that Airborne's early partners should be local businesses within the city, including the Olde Tymer's Cafe (strap-line: we cheat tourists and drunks), but with the app on the market a mere five days its to Airborne's credit that they've branched out in a second city a four-four drive away, though they're also installed at the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio, Colorado. A full list of available locations is available on the Audioair website.
Judging from the app screenshots the app supports Facebook (though not Foursquare) location check-in services with local discounts for users that can prove they're regular customers. Some form of chat service appears to be provided and, encouragingly, there appears to be a navigation system for channel selection - presumably for multi-screen venues showing multiple broadcasts.
If you were hoping for a magic app you could point at the silent wall of screens in the window of your local independent electronics retailer to listen in on the latest updates from the Republican Primary race you'll be disappointed to hear that this isn't it. Yet. But it's incredibly early days for a product that will get progressively more useful with every deal it makes.
One day we'll take it for granted that we can listen in to any screen with that ubiquitous iDevice we all carry round in our pockets. When that day comes, most won't be all that aware of how we got there. Whether AudioAir is the first step along that path or merely a false start remains to be seen.
Product page: AudioairView gallery - 4 images