Apple AirPlay 2 – everything you need to know

Apple AirPlay 2 – everything you need to know

AirPlay 2 is Apple’s big move into multi-room, and it’s supported by some big-name brands. But how does it work, and what devices can you use it on? We answer these questions and more…

Apple’s 2018 World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) is fast approaching (June 4th-8th), but we’re still waiting for a key feature that was announced at last year’s WWDC: AirPlay 2.

WWDC 2017 featured a wave of new innovations, but for hi-fi enthusiasts, one of the most important was the company’s move into multi-room audio. The new version of AirPlay technology – aptly named AirPlay 2 – is supposed to arrive as part of an update to Apple’s operating system, iOS 11. A year on, we’re still waiting – will it be worth the wait?

We hope so. But what are the benefits of upgrading to AirPlay 2? Which manufacturers and devices will use it? And if you already own a first-generation AirPlay product, can it be updated or will you need to buy a new AirPlay device? We have all the answers…

What is AirPlay?

Before getting into AirPlay 2, it’s worth looking back at the original AirPlay. Launched in 2010 as part of iOS 4 (around the time of iPhone 4), AirPlay was a way to stream audio, video, and photos wirelessly to Apple TV – and, eventually, to dedicated audio products.

It was built on Apple’s ‘AirTunes’ software from 2004, which was predominantly used to stream audio from iTunes to AirPort Express, so you could wirelessly listen to music across your home network from your Apple device.

Content would travel over your wireless network, rather than via Bluetooth, but it proved quite difficult to get a product set up. Those early products also didn’t have the most stable connection, and music would often drop out.

Updates to AirPlay made it a lot simpler and more reliable and, providing your Apple device is on the same wi-fi network, music can be streamed to it at the tap of a button.

 

What is AirPlay 2?

We saw our first glimpse of AirPlay 2 at WWDC 2017. The main focus of the update is on streaming music from your iOS device to more than one product.

This is Apple’s first real move into multi-room technology, and also the first major update to AirPlay. However, as a wireless protocol, many feel it is some way behind Bluetooth or Chromecast.

How does it work?

AirPlay on iOS 10

From what we saw at Apple’s presentation, AirPlay 2 will offer the ability to stream music wirelessly to, and between, compatible speakers on the same wi-fi network. This is through the Control Centre on iOS devices, an Apple TV box, or iTunes.

You can define where in your house the speaker is located, using labels such as ‘Living Room’ or ‘Kitchen’. From there, you can control which speakers are playing music at any time, both individually and as a group.

As long as they are AirPlay 2-compatible, you’ll be able to connect speakers from different manufacturers together, giving you more versatility regarding the products you want to use when setting up your multi-room system.

MORE: Apple Music vs Spotify – which is better?

Which Apple products will have AirPlay 2?

Any Apple device that supports iOS 11 will also get AirPlay 2:

  • Apple HomePod
  • Apple 4K TV

iPhone

iPad

iPod touch

The five-star Apple TV 4K streaming box – Apple’s first 4K streamer – will get AirPlay as part of a future tvOS 11 update and, of course, the feature is most anticipated to be used with Apple’s wireless smart speaker, the HomePod.

It’s assumed MacBooks and other Mac computers will also support AirPlay 2 as part of an update to the current MacOS High Sierra operating system.

Who’s supporting AirPlay 2?

There is already a long list of well-established hi-fi manufacturers signed up to AirPlay 2.

NaimBoseBang &OlufsenDevialetDynaudioBowers & WilkinsBluesoundLibratoneDenon and the Apple-owned Beats were all name-dropped at WWDC.

While some companies have already announced that they will offer AirPlay 2 updates to existing products (see below), we don’t yet know whether all brands will be offering new products with AirPlay 2 as one of its main (or even sole) streaming features.

Sonos has confirmed that AirPlay 2 will be arriving on its newer products – such as Play:5Playbase and One – and will be in upcoming products, too.

Can AirPlay products be upgraded to support AirPlay 2?

For some products, there will be a software update to update existing AirPlay speakers to AirPlay 2.

Libratone has announced an update will be available to its Zipp line, but not for its AirPlay-connected Diva soundbar or some other older products.

Naim has announced its latest line of Uniti products – Uniti AtomUniti Star and Uniti Nova – will be updated to support AirPlay 2 “in parallel with Apple’s launch timings”.

And a post on Bose’s community forum says it is “actively collecting information to answer inquiries about AirPlay 2 and HomeKit”.

So, it seems likely your existing hardware will require an update. We’ll let you know when we have more details about which products will be affected.

What are the alternatives?

The main competitor to AirPlay 2 is Bluetooth, especially if Bluetooth 5 offers single-source-to-multiple-devices functionality.

However, the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X all support Bluetooth 5. It isn’t likely to rival AirPlay 2’s multi-rooming skills, but it’s nice to have both streaming choices in the new handsets.

Then there’s Google’s Chromecast technology. If you’re using a Chromecast Audio stick or a Chromecast video device, you can stream content from iOS and Android products to your hi-fi devices. Some products also have Chromecast built-in, so you won’t need an external Chromecast device.

While it works slightly differently from AirPlay – your phone or tablet acts as a remote while the speaker plays the file from the internet, rather than the audio being sent over the internet from your smartphone – there are third-party applications that will let you Chromecast local audio from your phone to the speaker.

MORE: Apple iPhone 8 Plus review

When can I get AirPlay 2?

Apple had originally announced that AirPlay 2 would be available as part of iOS 11, but various software updates have come and gone without any sign of AirPlay 2.

Despite being teased in the beta version, Apple’s recently released iOS 11.3 update still showed no sign of AirPlay 2 coming to all its compatible devices – we now have fingers crossed for iOS 11.4 in time for Apple’s WWDC next month. Alternatively, might we have to wait until iOS 12?

The HomePod doesn’t currently feature any AirPlay 2 or multi-room features – they’ll supposedly come via a software update ‘later this year’.

We expect other manufacturers to update their systems in due course after AirPlay 2 is finally made public – although we’ll keep you up to date as we receive more information

 

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