Apple this week released AirPlay 2 as part of the iOS 11.4 update, almost a year after the company first announced the technology at its WWDC 2017 keynote. AirPlay 2 is currently limited to Apple’s HomePod speaker, but a number of third party manufacturers have pledged to bring it to their own products in the coming months.
So even if you don’t own a HomePod, here’s a quick look at the improvements AirPlay 2 brings and the devices on which you’ll soon be able to find it.
What is AirPlay 2?
AirPlay began life as AirTunes way back in 2004. AirTunes let iTunes users stream audio only from their Mac (and later PC) to an AirPort express. From there, users could connect their stereo or other audio device to the AirPort Express’ audio out port.
Apple later rebranded AirTunes as AirPlay in 2010, and invited third parties to adopt the feature. Not only could users now stream audio directly to compatible speakers without needing an AirPort Express but, starting in 2011, users could stream video as well. Examples include wirelessly streaming an iPad screen to your living room TV via an Apple TV, or sending a mirror of your MacBook desktop to a conference room Apple TV.
But despite these new features, there were still some limits on what first-generation AirPlay could do. Users streaming audio from iTunes on their Mac or PC could simultaneously send audio to multiple speakers, but those streaming audio from their iOS devices were limited to a single AirPlay speaker at a time. AirPlay 2 finally introduces multi-speaker support, allowing users to send audio to different speakers in different rooms, for example, or, in the case of speakers that support it like the HomePod, stream independent audio channels to unique speakers for a true stereo reproduction.
With the introduction of multi-speaker and multi-room audio streaming, AirPlay 2 also expands Siri’s abilities, allowing users to ask the personal digital assistant to stream different songs to different speakers, rooms, or zones/groups of speakers. Apple is also allowing developers to build AirPlay 2 support directly into their apps with the AirPlay 2 SDK, so that iOS users can easily manage their audio streaming regardless of which app they’re using. Further, Apple has claimed that the ad-hoc nature of AirPlay means that other iOS users in the vicinity will be able to optionally create shared playlists and jointly control the music.
Which Apple Devices Support AirPlay 2?
AirPlay 2 not only requires iOS 11.4, it also has specific hardware requirements in terms of which Apple devices you’ll need. The good news is that the list is fairly generous in terms of technical requirements.
To receive AirPlay 2 without buying one of the third party speakers listed below, you’ll need a HomePod or Apple TV. To send AirPlay 2, you’ll need one of the following:
iPhone 5S or newer
iPad (Air or newer)
iPad mini (gen 2 or newer)
iPod touch (6th gen)
iTunes (Mac or PC, exact version TBD)
Where are the AirPlay 2 Speakers?
AirPlay 2 is backwards compatible for basic streaming with first-generation AirPlay devices, but some features will require that explicitly add AirPlay 2 support. As mentioned at the top of the article, Apple’s HomePod is currently the only device on the market to offer full support for AirPlay 2, but Apple has shared a list of other manufacturers who have their own AirPlay 2 speakers in the works.
Here’s the list of AirPlay 2 speakers coming soon, as of the date of this article’s publication:
Beoplay A9 mk2
BeoSound Essence mk2
BeoVision Eclipse (audio only)
Libratone Zipp Mini
Naim Mu-so QB
Naim ND 555
Naim ND5 XS 2
Naim NDX 2
Naim Uniti Nova
Naim Uniti Atom
Naim Uniti Star
In the case of products that are already available, such as the Sonos Play:5, AirPlay 2 support will be introduced as part of a future software update.
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