Apple, AirPlay 2, and the AirPort Exress

ApexLast week, Apple released an update to the AirPort Express, the hockey-puck version of the wireless device. This device was discontinued earlier this year, and it’s surprising that Apple updated it. But this suggests that Apple is betting big on AirPlay 2 as a technology to maintain some amount of control over music playback. By ensuring a vibrant ecosystem for AirPlay 2, Apple stands to make money from licensing, but also to influence the way music is streamed in the home.

Naturally, Apple wants people to buy HomePods, but many people are already using the AirPort Express to stream audio to a variety of devices, from standalone speakers to full stereo systems. While more and more amplifiers and receivers support AirPlay, Apple certainly wants AirPlay 2 to become a de facto standard, inciting more manufacturers to include support, and to update existing products (if possible) to work with AirPlay 2.

One of the key features of AirPlay 2 is better multi-room syncing. Sonos pioneered this, and lots of people like their hardware, but even more so their software. Apple knows that they can nudge their way into this market; even Sonos is supporting AirPlay 2 or a couple of its speakers.

As yet, Apple has not provided an upgrade for the Apple TV 3, another device used for in-home streaming, in part because, like the AirPort Express, it has an optical audio jack. However, it’s more likely that people who were using devices for multi-room streaming depended on the AirPort Express, unless they were also streaming video to a TV. It will be interesting to see if Apple updates that device too.

iTunes 12.8 Brings AirPlay 2 Support to the Mac (and Windows)

Apple has released iTunes 12.8, for Mac and Windows, adding AirPlay 2 support to the desktop. When Apple released iOS 11.4, with AirPlay 2, the Mac (and Windows) was notably absent, meaning that you could stream music to a stereo pair of HomePods from an iOS device, but not from iTunes. This his (finally) been corrected.

Download iTunes 12.8 here, or through the Mac App Store app.

Apple, AirPlay, and “Tap-to-Radar”

Tap to radarI was listening to music last night, streaming from my iPhone to my HomePods. At one point, the audio started glitching, and when I looked at my iPhone, I saw this dialog. I was quite confused, and before I could do anything, it went away.

There are several problems with this dialog. First, I happen to know what a “radar” is; it’s the term used for a bug report in Apple’s developer bug reporting system. But most users won’t know what this means. I was not running a beta version of iOS on my phone, and I don’t use the same Apple ID for my personal data as I do for my developer account, so there’s no reason why anything using the term “radar” should display on my iPhone.

Second, why is this being shown to normal users? Is it some debug code that was forgotten when iOS 11.4 shipped?

Finally, it went away before I could even react; I was curious to see what would happen if I tapped Tap-to-Radar.

Perhaps it’s just another case of Apple not cleaning up the code in their OS releases. Has anyone else seen this, perhaps when using a beta version of iOS?

What AirPlay 2 Means for Your Listening Setup

Apple has finally released the AirPlay 2 framework for streaming audio and video on a wi-fi network to compatible devices. Announced just about a year ago at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, then delayed along with the HomePod, the first device to fully leverage this protocol, AirPlay 2 was released last week as part of iOS 11.4. It is not, however, available on macOS yet, nor on iTunes for Windows, and presumably a Mac update should follow soon.

If you’re used to using AirPlay, you won’t notice much of a difference, but there are some changes under the hood that should make your listening better. Here’s an overview of how AirPlay 2 works.

Read the rest of the article on Computer Audiophile.

Why Is AirPlay 2 Not Available for the Mac?

Apple released iOS 11.4 last week, which included AirPlay 2, the new version of Apple’s music and video streaming framework. And they yesterday released macOS 10.13.5, but AirPlay 2 is not part of this update. As you can see below, in the AirPlay menu in iTunes, the two HomePods in my bedroom show as two devices.

Airplay mac

But I have connected these two HomePods as a stereo pair, and you can see this in the AirPlay menu on the iPhone:

Airplay iphone

It’s surprising that Apple hasn’t rolled AirPlay 2 into macOS. You have long been able to stream to multiple speakers from the Mac, using iTunes, and that is new on iOS with AirPlay 2, but the inability for the Mac to be able to use AirPlay 2 and see a stereo pair of HomePods is surprising.

iWant: AirPlay Streaming from iOS Devices to Macs

AirPlay is very cool. You can stream from a Mac to various devices, such as an Apple TV, or to standalone AirPlay-compatible speakers. You can stream from an iOS device to an Apple TV or to standalone AirPlay speakers. But one thing I’d like, which currently isn’t possible, is to stream from an iOS device to a Mac.

The reason for this is, in my case, to play podcasts that are on an app on my iPhone, and not on my Mac, through my Mac and its speakers. There could be many other uses, such as playing someone’s music on your Mac when they’re visiting, or to view an iPad screen on a Mac while playing a game. You can do both of these to an Apple TV, so it shouldn’t be hard to do them to a Mac as well.

I wouldn’t use this feature a lot, but trying out Marco Arment’s new Overcast podcast app, with its great smart speed and voice boost features, I realized that, when I listen to podcasts in my office, I’d rather use that app than iTunes. So I’d like to just stream them to my Mac. The alternative is to connect an AirPort Express to my stereo, but that’s expensive for just streaming occasionally.

But you may even want to stream something from one Mac to another; again, since you can do this to an Apple TV, it should be trivial to do it on a Mac.

Update: I was reminded by a few friends that there are third-party apps that can act as AirPlay receivers on a Mac. I have one, X-Mirage, which I got in an app bundle, but never used. I’ll try it out.