Apple AirPlay 2.0: Everything you need to know

Apple Airplay
Nate Barrett/Digital Trends

At last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple announced its next big mobile operating system update, iOS 11, which went live in October. In the midst of busy proceedings — Apple also unveiled the HomePod speaker, MacOS High Sierra, and a robust lineup of shiny, new computers. As such, the reveal of its brand new protocol, AirPlay 2.0, slipped under the radar.

That’s understandable; after all, it’s easier to be excited for tangible products than iterative protocol updates. Still, especially for those deep in the Apple ecosystem, AirPlay 2 could be a game changer, allowing Apple fans not only to send images, video, and more through the air over Wi-Fi, but also giving supported speakers Sonos-like powers to create a whole-home audio network. With that in mind, we’re here to explain it all, Clarissa style. Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know (and probably some stuff you don’t) about Apple AirPlay 2.

What is AirPlay, anyway?

Apple Airplay
Nate Barrett/Digital Trends
Nate Barrett/Digital Trends

Originally debuting back in 2004 as AirTunes, AirPlay is Apple’s proprietary, wireless protocol suite designed to allow users to “throw” audio and video signals from one “sender” device to one “receiver” device. Streamed content can include music, video, photos, and screen sharing, and retains its metadata when sent via AirPlay.

“Sender” devices include the following: Computers running iTunes; iOS devices (iOS 4.2 or higher) including iPhones, iPods, and iPads; and Mac computers running MacOS Mountain Lion or later (depending upon the processor). “Receiver” devices include the following: AirPort Express router, Apple TV, Apple’s HomePod speaker, and a litany of supported third-party speakers.

If the above sounds a bit too technical, here’s the bottom line: AirPlay allows you to take images, audio, and/or video from one device (typically smaller) and play it through another (typically larger). With AirPlay, you can also “mirror” your device’s screen so others can see exactly what’s displayed on the “sender” device, usually employed with your iPhone or iPad.

Something to keep in mind: Speaker companies often bump up the price on AirPlay-enabled products, due to licensing fees. We expect this will remain the case with AirPlay 2.

So, what does AirPlay 2 do?

In short, AirPlay 2 adds the ability to allow Apple’s HomeKit to communicate with speakers, which adds multiroom functionality, allowing users to send audio to multiple supported “receiver” devices (read: speakers) at once. This might seem like a shot across the bow of Sonos, everyone’s favorite multi-space audio company, but Sonos has already pledged support for AirPlay 2, so you’ll be able to stream your favorite tunes to a Sonos One and a HomePod simultaneously, should that strike your fancy. As with the Google Home app, the mission control app for Chromecast devices, you’ll use the iOS Home app to label and organize your different speakers.

AirPlay 2 is baked into both iOS 11 and MacOS High Sierra, so whether you are using an iPhone, iPad, or computer, you’ll have full control of playback.

AirPlay 2 is baked into both iOS 11 and MacOS 10.13 High Sierra, so whether you’re using an Apple mobile device or computer, you’ll have full control of audio playback. The same goes for the Apple TV and Apple TV 4K streaming devices; tvOS 11 (launched in the fall of 2017) turns your Apple TV into a “sender” device as well as a “receiver” device, so if you’ve got a traditional audio system hooked up to the Apple TV, that will become part of the AirPlay ecosystem as well, even if the speakers don’t support Airplay 2 directly.

As AirPlay 2 is an open API, any developer or manufacturer can apply with Apple to add support to their app or device, so unlike Sonos (for example), you won’t need to play music from one specific app.

What works with AirPlay 2?

B&O Play Beoplay M3 black
Beoplay M3
Beoplay M3

As previously mentioned, the list of AirPlay 2 “sender” devices is fairly short, comprising mostly iOS devices (they’ll need iOS 11) and Mac computers (MacOS 10.13) — it won’t work on any devices made before 2011. The list of “receiver” devices is also fairly short for now, but it’ll keep getting bigger over time. At CES, Bang & Olufsen teased AirPlay 2 support for a number of speakers and audio systems, and obviously the HomePod will be supported (in fact, it doesn’t even support Bluetooth — just AirPlay).

During WWDC, Apple displayed a graphic showing several partner brands whose products will support AirPlay 2 in the coming months and years, listed below:

  • Bang & Olufsen
  • Beats
  • Bluesound
  • Bose
  • Bowers & Wilkins
  • Definitive Technology
  • Denon
  • Devialet
  • Libratone
  • Marantz
  • McIntosh
  • Naim
  • Polk

As you might expect, this is likely just a small fraction of the companies which plan to add Airplay 2 support to their products. Plus, some existing apps and products can be updated to support AirPlay 2 in addition to newly developed apps and products. So, if you’re in possession of some swanky, Wi-Fi-enabled B&W speakers, don’t throw them out the window just yet!

Earlier, we mentioned the AirPort Express, a Wi-Fi base station launched in 2014 to anchor smart home tech; Apple hasn’t announced whether it’ll receive an AirPlay update, but since we haven’t heard much about the AirPorts of late, we wouldn’t recommend getting your hopes up.

When will AirPlay 2 launch?

Great question! AirPlay 2 was expected to launch alongside the HomePod back in December 2017, but it got delayed along with the smart speaker. The HomePod’s official release date is February 9 — but Apple hasn’t officially set a rollout date for AirPlay 2.

In this press release regarding the HomePod’s availability, Apple had this to say: “Coming this year in a free software update, users will be able to play music throughout the house with multi-room audio.” So, we can expect AirPlay 2 to launch in 2018 — we just don’t know when, exactly.