It’s Better Than Nothing: Nokia Play To App Brings DLNA To Lumia Phones

Nokia is beefing up its Lumia handsets with a bit of DLNA baked into its Nokia Play To app for Windows Phone. The app is currently in beta and available for download at Nokia’s Beta Labs. The company debuted the app last summer for Symbian handsets (demo video below).

Do you know what’s great about DLNA? Nothing. It’s Apple’s AirPlay done wrong. The two sharing protocols embody a similar concept in that they allow media to be streamed from a device to a screen. But one implementation works flawlessly, and for various reasons, the other often does not.

Nokia’s Play To app promises to do much of the same as AirPlay. Through the app, Lumia phones can stream photos and videos to DLNA devices as long as both share a common a Wi-Fi connection. But as a longtime DLNA user, I can attest that AirPlay and DLNA work very differently.

From Wikipedia, DLNA is a “non-profit collaborative trade organization.” The standard called by the same name uses UPnP for media delivery. It’s a complex ecosystem consisting of 12 different types of clients and servers from dozens if not hundreds of companies. The standard allows for simple cross-communication between different devices produced by different companies. For instance, a Nokia phone or PC-based media server can share media with a Sony HDTV or Panasonic Blu-ray player. Herein lies the problem: the ecosystem is so vast that there is often a piece missing, causing the whole thing to collapse and fail.

Apple built AirPlay exclusively for Apple devices. The wireless technology is only found on iOS devices and very few hardware clients. Apple TV is the primary set-top client but AirPlay also found on devices like the Boxee Box and through an app on Google TV. This limited ecosystem cuts out a large chunk of potential users but it is also the reason it works so well. Simply turn on AirPlay on a hardware client like the Apple TV and it instantly appears on the iOS device. I do not fancy myself an Apple fanboy, but after years of messing with DLNA, I consider AirPlay a marvel of technology. It just works.

Still, as bad as DLNA is, Nokia is at least moving forward, implementing a widely used standard. Nokia, like Windows Phone, is still playing catch-up. Android has had DLNA for years and Apple’s AirPlay debuted in 2010 as AirTunes. Like HTC, Nokia is essentially using off-the-shelf innovation to beef up its offering. It’s smart and cost-effective. Nokia does not have the same ecosystem as Apple to develop and market a competing sharing technology. But I wish it did.