Initially launched as AirTunes in 2004, AirPlay officially launched in 2010 as a part of iOS 4. The service received significant upgrades in 2017 when it made the shift to AirPlay 2. The service now allows users to stream content from the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac to compatible devices, which include Apple's own Apple TV and HomePod, as well as certain brands of smart speakers and smart TVs.
● Stream audio, video, and images to compatible devices
● Support from big name companies like LG, Sony, Bose, and Sonos
● Screen mirroring to Apple TVs
● Siri support
● Collaborative playlist creation
AirPlay is an Apple service that allows users to share videos, photos, music, and other various forms of media across a variety of platforms. Platforms included are Apple's own Apple TV, AirPlay-enabled speakers, and many popular smart TV brands.
Apple released AirTunes in June of 2004 as their first foray into wireless streaming between devices. AirTunes gave users the ability to play audio wirelessly by utilizing the now-defunct AirPort.
In the last half of 2010, AirTunes was rebranded as AirPlay. The update allowed users to stream audio, video, and images to other Apple devices. Screen mirroring would be added in 2011.
First announced in June of 2017, AirPlay 2 had been slated to release alongside part of the iOS 11 launch in September os 2017. However, due to setbacks during development, it would not be released until June of 2018. It featured support for multi-room audio built into the operating system. Previously, iOS could only stream music to one speaker, while multi-speaker support was limited to macOS.
It also integrated with HomeKit for the first time, allowing Siri to be used to play music on a specific speaker.
The update also included a shared "Up Next" option for collaborative playlists while listening with friends. Third-party apps were also able to tap into multi-room audio with a new API.
Users can stream audio, video, and image files from their compatible devices to any device that supports AirPlay. Originally, devices had to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network, but the protocol was later updated to allow devices the ability to connect directly via Wi-Fi Direct.
Compatible devices include any iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad that is capable of running iOS 11.4 or later. Also included are the Apple TV (fourth generation and later) and any macOS computer running High Sierra or later.
Smart speaker manufacturers have also chosen to support AirPlay 2, as well. Brands such as Beats, Bose, Denon, Polk, and Sonos are among the more popular brands to support the protocol.
Compatible devices can receive AirPlay over Wi-Fi or ethernet. Because AirPlay is open-source, any computer can be turned into an AirPlay receiver. However, due to Apple's DRM encryption, some media is unable to be played on third-party, unsupported devices. This includes iTunes' rights-protected media, YouTube, and Netflix.
AirPlay can automatically play movies and shows in the places a user is most likely to watch them. Over time, the service learns where a user prefers to watch TV and can start playing on the TV in that room by default.
Buffering has been improved in later iterations of the service. AirPlay 2 features a relatively short buffering time — about two seconds — from starting a stream until it is played on a device that supports it.
Users who own more than one device that supports AirPlay 2 can play audio throughout their house in sync with each other. AirPlay improves syncing issues over something like Bluetooth, which has a longer buffering time and can be prone to desyncing.
Apple Music boasts a feature that allows anyone to add songs to the Up Next, allowing users to build a collaborative playlist.
Siri may also make a suggestion to users, which will show up on the lock screen or in search. The suggestion will also include the option to use AirPlay, allowing users to tap to begin watching a show on the users' preferred screen.
AirPlay Mirroring allows content to be broadcast from iOS devices to an Apple TV (second-generation or later.) This is especially useful for those who are looking for a convenient way to show off pictures or video without requiring a large number of people to crowed around an iPhone or iPad.