Is the iPad Launching the Two-Screen Revolution?

iPad (s aapl) owners are starting to see more and more apps that encourage the use of the device in conjunction with other screens. I’m not talking about remote desktop apps that allow the iPad to act as a mirror of other machines; I specifically mean apps that allow the iPad to act as a supplemental screen for another, providing separate information that adds to the overall experience.

Apple is paving the way for true, two-screen viewing in a way that no company has been able to do before now. And it’s a change that could benefit traditional content providers just as much, if not more than new players on the scene. Movie studios, cable companies, and gaming hardware manufacturers should all be looking at the iPad not as competition, but as a new route to customer engagement.

Content providers that are taking the hint are seeing benefits. Real Racing 2 HD is an early mover in the dual-screen gaming space, and it’s seeing the rewards. The game is currently at No. 57 in the top paid apps charts on the iTunes App Store, and it garnered lots of media attention and downloads with its innovative approach that used the iPad screen in addition to full HD output on a connected television. The game displays supplemental information on the iPad 2, which also serves as a motion controller for the primary racing action displayed on the TV.

It doesn’t feel awkward, contrived, or unnecessary, and that’s because it doesn’t try to compete with the much larger display for a user’s attention. It delivers just the right amount of information in just the right way so as to inform without distracting.

Ryan wrote about the new VH1 Co-Star iPad app last week (s via). The app acts as a companion for VH1 programming, offering content-specific info and trivia, as well as curated social streams from Twitter and Facebook. It’s an app that aims to capitalize on the fact that social network interaction during broadcasts is becoming more and more common. It’s a great way to encourage engagement, which, when successful, can turn casual channel surfers into dedicated repeat viewers. It can also be a great avenue for making money from targeted ads since it gives networks a great idea of what viewers are watching what content. A second-display experience makes even more sense when it comes to televised sports programming, where a supplemental screen can provide the kind of statistical info and league scores and highlights without interrupting the main action.

A third way that iPads show promise as second-screen devices is as control surfaces for complex applications. Adobe (s adbe) recently showed off its Photoshop touch apps, and the company is releasing a public SDK so other developers can come up with equally innovative ways to use the small screen as a control or enhancement device for what’s going on a much larger computer screen. There’s great potential for similar implementations for other media manipulation applications (like DJ and film editing software), as well as for supplementary computer control surfaces in general.

The iPad’s success is perhaps most impressive because it’s done so well without impacting Apple’s other lines of business; people aren’t buying an iPad instead of a Mac or iPod. Rather, if anything, they’re getting them in addition to those things. Likewise, the iPad need not pose a threat to other means of media consumption. Instead, the tablet can act as a way to make users spend more, not less time with their existing entertainment devices. Companies hoping to use the iPad to achieve this goal need to be smart about development, but it’s a far better prospect than simply putting your head in the sand and hoping the iPad simply goes about its business with little or no negative impact on your business.