The missing (display) link for enterprise tablets

Patrick Gray discusses the need for more wireless options when it comes to screen sharing with tablets and laptops in conference rooms.


In most companies, it's a fact of life that tablets are increasingly everywhere -- from boardrooms to the production floor. While tablet technology has been spurring collaboration and data capture, one area where technology hasn’t caught up is presenting tablet images on the “big screen” in most conference rooms. Despite innovations in everything from video conferencing to display technology, most conference rooms I’ve encountered around the world still provide little more than the 1980’s vintage 15-pin VGA connector.

Most meetings exchange digital content, so it’s a wonder that displaying information or sharing documents tends to involve the “projector cord shuffle,” followed by a few minutes of admonitions as to the correct key combination to enable the projector. Modern tablets and laptops are also abandoning the bulky VGA connector in favor of HDMI or mini-HDMI connectors, or even a complete lack of display connectors in the case of the popular iPad, which requires a dongle to even work with a projector or conference room flat screen.

What we're missing

Despite a few stopgap attempts that I’ll discuss below, no one has come forward with an easy, cheap, common, and retrofittable solution that allows laptops and tablets to readily connect to a projector. This solution should be wireless and ideally use some sort of broadcast technology that allows devices to easily find the projector and connect with a minimum of hassle. Intel and other players have incorporated wireless display technology into some of their laptops, and a few tablets have similar technology, but finding a conference room that’s equipped with one of these technologies is frustratingly rare. A $20-50 device that plugs into an existing projector or television and easily enables wireless display connectivity seems like it would be an instant hit.

What we have

The current market for wireless display sharing, particularly with tablets, is rather fragmented, with most of the solutions coming from the consumer space, reflecting the consumer-oriented nature of the major tablet platforms. Here are a few of the options:

Apple AirPlay: Apple’s solution to wireless display sharing comes in the form of AirPlay, an Apple-specific standard embedded into their iOS and Mac OS laptops that allows sharing video to the company’s Apple TV device. While the Apple TV is relatively small and unobtrusive, its $99 price tag and Apple-specific nature limit its appeal. Software is available to allow Windows PCs to share their screens to an Apple TV, so if you’re in a primarily Apple-based environment and willing to spend an extra $100 on each conference room, AirPlay is relatively user-friendly and easy to set up.

Google Chromecast: Google’s $35 device initially seems like a winner. The device is only a bit bigger than a USB memory stick and plugs directly into a TV’s or projector’s HDMI port. Content can be streamed relatively easily from a browser, but the list of caveats reduces the appeal of Chromecast at the moment. The device currently supports only the Chrome web browser and limits its streaming to the confines of the browser, so you can simply “share your screen.”

Miracast: Miracast has been tagged as the “AirPlay killer,” an unfortunate moniker that’s generated vendor strife and befuddled consumers. Miracast essentially delivers a wireless monitor cable, sending audio and video to a Miracast device in the same manner as you’d get by connecting a physical VGA or HDMI cable. This has good and bad points; you can share exactly what’s on your screen, but you can’t “fling” different content like movies to the screen while performing a different activity on the computer itself.

Furthermore, Miracast has been marred by internecine warfare among the various vendors that claim to support the standard, several of them applying vendor-specific names to Miracast or only partially supporting the standard, which ultimately prevents broader adoption.

Other screen-sharing solutions

Several other consumer devices, like the Xbox and various streaming devices, claim to support some level of screen sharing. The popular Roku device, for example, claims Miracast support is “coming soon.” With many of these devices hovering around $100, it may be worthwhile to consider these consumer-style units, since they offer video playback and screen sharing, plus they provide a relatively low price point to do some initial testing in your own environment.

With such a proliferation of wireless technologies and mobile devices, it’s fairly surprising that the battered blue VGA cable remains the method of choice for displaying content from a mobile device. Hopefully, the somewhat fragmented and proprietary market for wireless display sharing will mature and, with its current focus on the consumer, enterprises may benefit from its rapid evolution and commodity pricing.

How do you provide screen sharing with tablets and laptops in conference rooms in your organization? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.

By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a leading global professional services firm, where he helps companies rapidly invent and launch new businesses. He is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companio...