Following updates to iOS, one of the key strengths Apple has right now is its rich support for video output. (See, for instance, our look at VGA output from the spring.) Video out is a standard, supported, public, documented option for developers, at least if you’re on the newest devices and OS. And that includes both mirroring and the use of the output as a separate display, making the iPad a perfectly viable source for visuals, not just a controller (though it does that, as well).

So, what about the increasing variety of Android gadgets on the market? The Android platform does have more handsets to support, with multiple vendors. At the moment, that means there isn’t an equivalent API – it just isn’t in the platform, from what I can see, and certainly not in a documented or usable form.

The difference now versus this time last year is that we are seeing handsets with output capabilities. Recent entries from HTC, Samsung, and Motorola all include HDMI outputs. The trick is how to get at that output. Handset makers are the ones responsible for drivers for the output, and so far, their strategy has been to keep that support to themselves. That means you get output support in a handful of applications shipped by the device vendor with the phone (like stock gallery and video player apps).

One bright spot is that Samsung Galaxy S, which actually has analog video support. (Analog!) Android and Me have done a great job of documenting how this works:
Samsung Captivate (Galaxy S) video out demonstration

What’s great about it is that it mirrors everything. So, load Processing for Android on a phone, hook up a cable to connect a mixer, and you’re ready to go – brilliant. It’s a shame that for now the Galaxy S seems to be one of a kind.

One other interesting option on these devices is also wireless DLNA support; I could imagine devices as roaming camera sources at live events. (If you’re willing to roll your own streaming over wifi, actually, you could wire this up with any smartphone today.)

It’s a fairly safe bet that this situation will improve. Android is more complex than iOS in that it has this additional layer of device vendors and their drivers; Apple likewise uses a number of off-the-shelf components, but they are both platform vendor and device maker. But I’ve heard off the record that wrapping around these vendor implementations is possible. The better, long-term solution will be some sort of platform-wide support for video. Once that’s in place, it’ll be a no-brainer for device makers to support the implementation, since companies like Samsung like to tout this feature. (Doubly so when you’re Samsung and want to sell people more TVs.)

I can sum up in two words why you can bet Android will have some kind of platform support: there’s this little thing called Google TV. Even for set-top boxes, though, that developer option won’t be available until early 2011. The tablet picture is likewise a question mark – for now.

I have a simple bias: I want video out everywhere. Android is likely to require some waiting, but it’s a situation we’ll monitor. Mixing an iPad and an Android phone via an HDMI mixer, someday? Bring it on.