Samsung latest to embrace the second screen and take on Airplay

Samsung believes that one of the best remotes may already be in your pocket: The company announced its new multiscreen SDK at its first-ever developer conference in San Francisco Monday. The new SDK, once adopted by developers, will make  it possible to press a button on your phone to launch an online video stream, or even a game, on your TV. Sound familiar? That’s not really a coincidence — but Samsung thinks that it can one-up its competition.

The idea of controlling your TV with your phone or tablet has been around for some time. Apple (S AAPL) was the first company to successfully use mobile and connected devices together with its Airplay protocol, and Google (s GOOG) managed to surprise everyone this summer by launching Chromecast, a streaming media device that can’t be controlled with anything but a phone or a tablet.

Samsung is taking more than just some cues from Chromecast: The company’s new second-screen API is compatible with DIAL, the multi-screen protocol that was jointly developed by Netflix (s NFLX) and Google. But the company went one step further and added functionality on top of DIAL that allows developers to control media playback from the mobile phone, launch games on the phone and use the TV as a display and even overlay content over live TV programming — think tweets during a newscast, or stats while a baseball game unfolds. If you want to know more about Samsung’s thinking behind such a multi-device approach, make sure to check out Samsung SVP Curtis Sasaki’s talk at our Roadmap design conference in San Francisco next week.

One of the companies that took advantage of the new SDK is Rabbit, a San Francisco-based group video chat startup that allows users to jointly watch videos while chatting with each other. “Samsung’s SDK is quite powerful and easy to use, plus they have a strong blend of powerful hardware to work with,” said Rabbit co-founder Stephanie Morgan.

Samsung has said that the SDK is going to be available for its 2013 and 2014 smart TVs starting November 12. The company is making APIs available for Android, iOS and HTML5, meaning that developers will be able to launch media playback, games or other multi-screen apps from both smartphone platforms as well as ordinary web browsers.

Samsung’s multi-screen SDK is based in large parts on work done by MOVL, a startup that the company acquired back in May. MOVL actually built a complete multi-screen platform, but the startup was best known for some of the multi-screen games it built for both Samsung and Google TV devices. Some of those ideas can clearly be found in Samsung’s SDK as well. For example, it allows developers to work with an unlimited number of devices for their apps — something that’s particularly helpful when users are battling each other in multi-player games.

Samsung’s embrace of multi-screen technology is smart, in part because it allows the company to entice many more developers to make apps that work with the company’s TV sets.

But there’s more to it: Simple video beaming from your mobile phone to your TV is quickly becoming commoditized. DIAL is now being supported by devices from Sony, (S SNE) Vizio, LG, Panasonic, TiVo (S TIVO) and Samsung, with support for Roku streaming players coming soon. Adding gaming and other functionalities on top of remote control features could be one way for Samsung to differentiate itself from the competition.

Updated at 12:16pm with the availability date of the SDK.