Rob Witman moved to Durham from San Francisco two years ago and immediately started working his way around the various business, technology, and startup circles here. He joined ExitEvent in September 2011 with his previous company, Riffware, and in October 2012 was selected into accelerator Groundwork Labs with his new company Splitmo.
“I’d been in mobile since 2004 and wanted to leverage that experience,” he says. “But I didn’t want to be yet another mobile company. As a result, I chose to focus on what I expect to be the next big thing from mobile, dual-screen apps.”
If that concept sounds new to you, you’re not alone. Think of it as second-screen gaming, where players have individual devices (like their iPhone), that work together to affect play on a larger screen (like an Apple TV-connected television).
The Wii U does this with their included GamePad controller, which contains its own display, set apart from the other players who play on the main television with traditional controllers. When Witman saw the Wii U and the similar XBox SmartGlass debut at the 2012 E3, he knew he was onto something with Splitmo.
Yesterday, Splitmo launched Poker Night TV for Apple TV, in which players use their individual devices (iPhone or iPad) to make their bets, check their cards and review their stats all while the main television presents the virtual table, complete with common cards and pot amounts.
This is just one example of a game in which public and private information can span multiple devices, and Splitmo expects to release more apps in the coming year.
It’s also a bet that “mini-consoles,” such as the $100 Apple TV, the $99 Android-based Ouya, the upcoming subscription based gamepop, and the now-delayed GameStick, are going to give Microsoft and Sony a run for their money later this year when both companies release long-awaited, much-anticipated, and very expensive new consoles.
“It’s hard to beat the $100 cost for the system, 99-cent or even free games, and a controller you’ve got in your pocket,” Witman says.
Witman was expecting to hear about the launch of a slew of Apple TV apps at this year’s WWDC, but that didn’t that happen. He expects that those apps are coming, and he expects they will launch this fall. So he’s pretty sure that Splitmo is in the right place at the right time.
There should soon be enough ubiquty to make dual app gaming disruptive. In fact, the ubiquity is already there, it’s just that no one has capitalized on it yet. There are hundreds of millions of smart devices out there, and those devices significantly disrupted handheld gaming. They brought to gaming a new demographic that wasn’t doing gaming before because now it’s cheap, fun, and right there in their pocket, all the time.
“You’re seeing more and more people interacting with televisions, with Smart TV, whether that’s Google TV and the Google Play store or the Apple TV and apps,” Witman says. “There’s a serious value prop there, just based on the economics alone, plus you’ve got a lot of people out there who are already used to the interface.”
All it would take, according to Litman, is a strong marketing push.
“Apple is such a juggernaut, and they’ve put no money into their percentage of marketing toward Apple TV. They’ve experienced year-over-year doubling of growth of the unit, with 5 million units last year. So the install base is probably 14-15 million. How many are they going to sell this year? And then on top of that to announce a video game system for $100 that does all this streaming and what have you.”
He expects that kind of push would make the market “really go bananas.”
“You put the muscle and mind of Apple or Google behind them and it’s going to be hard for them to not be successful.”
Splitmo is just hoping to play a part in that success.
Splitmo currently maintains space in the new American Underground at Main in downtown Durham. They’re only 2 full time with some extra outside resources for design and QA. They’re hoping to close a $350K seed round this summer and hire three more people.
They’re working on additional games for the dual screen space, trying to stay between casual and multiplayer. They see a huge opportunity in true multiplayer mobile games.