Eric Johnson

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Rolocule Wants to Turn Your Apple TV Into a Wii, and Your iPhone Into the Controller

rolomotion_1The iPhone can already do a lot of things, but here’s a new trick: An app released today by Rolocule Games pairs with users’ Apple TVs and turns the phone into a Wiimote-style motion controller.

The end result: Just in time for Wimbledon, a tennis game app designed for your TV (or computer) that turns swinging your iPhone into an onscreen avatar swinging a virtual racket. That’s pretty similar to what Nintendo and its imitators have been doing for a while, of course, but the novelty is that the game runs on the phone as-is, without the need of any peripheral hardware besides the Apple TV.

The game, Motion Tennis, works over Apple’s AirPlay Mirroring technology, which can beam the audio and video from most iPhones, iPads and iPod touches over Wi-Fi onto second- and third-generation Apple TVs. After downloading the app, users must go into their mobile settings to turn on AirPlay Mirroring.

Motion Tennis, which costs $7.99 in the U.S., has a few modes: A single-player match against computer players, with four difficulty levels; a cooperative doubles match pitting two iPhone-wielding humans against two computers; and a single-player “survival” mode against the computer, where one missed ball ends the game. Holding the iPhone at different angles can turn a normal shot into a slice or a lob.

tennis instructions

If you want to try the game, but (like me) don’t have an Apple TV, you can download an AirPlay emulator for your computer. After finagling with a couple of free trials, I had the most success with AirServer, which runs on Mac OS X 10.4 and higher, as well as on Windows 7, 8 and Vista.

This isn’t a review, but it’s worth noting a few current limitations to the game. The motion isn’t as smooth as it is in the tennis part of Wii Sports, and Motion Tennis encourages you to “swing early” to compensate for the slight lag between phone and TV/computer.

Plus, if you’re on a weak Wi-Fi signal or have a lot of devices on your network — a problem I experienced when Rolocule CEO Rohit Gupta tried to show me the game while on AllThingsD’s office Wi-Fi — the lag gets much worse.

motion tennisGupta won’t go into detail about the specifics of how Rolocule translates the iPhone’s gyroscope and accelerometer into the AirPlay-mirrored game. That’s his company’s secret sauce, he said, and other games integrating it are in the works. Gupta also showed off a less-polished, in-development game that turned the phone into a bow and arrow for shooting zombies.

Rolocule isn’t the only games company that uses AirPlay Mirroring. It has been technically possible since 2011, but most of the games that mention AirPlay in a search for the term on the App Store do so to advertise a spectator mode, or just the ability to see the graphics in HD on the big screen.

A few others do turn the phone into a controller, but the best-reviewed examples I could find were Pilot’s Path, which pairs touchscreen controls with action on the TV screen, and Bit Breaker, a Breakout copycat that whacks the ball harder if you jump with the iPhone in hand. Turning players’ motion into human-like motion on-screen appears to be new.

So, why does this matter? If and when Apple does move more aggressively into the living room, one of the important questions will be how, exactly, it will tap into its broad user base of iPhone owners to offer something novel. Just having a Wii Tennis clone isn’t it, of course, but the success of games on the iPhone and iPad makes gaming an obvious consideration for the company.

There’s no indication yet that Apple would bank on AirPlay for that maybe-future TV integration. However, Gupta did say he had demoed Motion Tennis for Apple employees in Cupertino, Calif., and that “they were really excited” by what he showed.

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