If you own an iOS device such as an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you need to know about Apple’s AirPlay and AirPlay 2. These technologies are like an invisible cable that let you send music, movies and more from your iOS device to a compatible speaker or TV. You can even share the entire contents of your screen, making it the perfect way to show demonstrations to large groups of people. But what exactly is AirPlay, what kinds of things can you do with it, and how do you use it? Glad you asked! We’ve got all of the answers right here, and it won’t take long at all for you to become an AirPlay expert. Ready?
What is AirPlay?
AirPlay, and its more advanced successor, AirPlay 2, are technologies Apple invented to let people wirelessly transmit audio and video from their iOS devices to nearby speakers and screens. The iOS device is considered the AirPlay “sender” and the speaker or TV is considered the AirPlay “receiver.” If you own an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, with iOS 4.2 or later (which should pretty much be everybody who owns one of these devices) you already have AirPlay built in. As we mentioned in the intro, think of AirPlay as an invisible cable connecting your iOS device to the device you want to watch or listen on, because that’s almost exactly the right analogy. There are two distinct ways to use AirPlay: As a way to stream audio and video, and as a way to mirror your device’s entire screen. We’ll discuss the differences between these two use types below.
What’s the difference between AirPlay and AirPlay 2?
AirPlay 2 gives you a few more choices over where and how you stream your content. Some features, like creating a stereo pair from two wireless speakers, are only possible using AirPlay 2. While AirPlay is already in use on plenty of third-party wireless speakers for audio, over the coming months and years, you can expect to see AirPlay 2 streaming both video and audio to multiple third-party smart TVs and streaming devices. We’ve got a periodically updated list of smart TVs that have or will be getting AirPlay 2, and here’s a list of companies that have embedded the technology into their wireless speakers, A/V receivers, and more.
Is AirPlay just for iOS devices?
No. Any second-generation Intel Core (or newer) Mac computer or laptop running OS X Mountain Lion or later can use AirPlay for screen mirroring. Any computer — whether it’s a Mac or a PC — can use AirPlay to stream music if it has Apple’s free iTunes software installed, and with iTunes going away in macOS Catalina, we expect this will to be embedded in one or more of its replacement apps. Apple TV and Apple TV 4K devices are also AirPlay-enabled, though they’re special in the AirPlay world, as they’re both receivers and senders.
If you do some Googling, you’ll also find a huge community of hardware and software developers who have discovered ingenious ways to bring AirPlay sending and receiving to other gadgets, but none of these are officially supported by Apple, so your results may vary if you decide to go down that road.
What kind of things can I do with AirPlay?
Streaming audio and video is pretty vague language so here are some specific examples of exactly what you can do with AirPlay:
- Watching Netflix: When watching a movie or TV show on the Netflix app on your iOS device, you can AirPlay the audio and video to your TV via an Apple TV set-top box.
- Getting better sound for YouTube: When watching a video on the YouTube app, you can AirPlay just the audio to a set of wireless speakers for a much more immersive experience than listening to the built-in speaker on your iPhone or iPad.
- Surfing together: Let’s say you’re planning a road trip with friends. Instead of a big group of people huddling around a 13-inch laptop to look at a map, you can mirror the entire screen using AirPlay to a 65-inch TV, via an Apple TV (or directly if your TV has AirPlay 2 built-in).
- Multiroom party: Open the Spotify app and pick your favorite playlist. AirPlay that music to every wireless speaker in your house, without any annoying delays and echoes.
How do I use AirPlay on my iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch?
Using AirPlay couldn’t be easier, but you will need at least three things before you begin:
- Your iOS device (obviously)
- A Wi-Fi network (AirPlay requires Wi-Fi)
- An AirPlay or AirPlay 2-compatible receiving device like a wireless speaker, Apple TV, or smart TV (make sure they’re plugged in and powered on)
Example 1: Mirroring your iPhone to your TV via Apple TV
- Swipe up from the bottom of your screen to see the iOS Control Center.
- Tap the Screen Mirroring button.
- In the following window, choose your target device which in this case is an Apple TV.
- That’s it — your iPhone’s screen should now be displayed on your TV
- Pro tip: If you don’t like how it looks when in a vertical orientation, simply turn your phone sideways and the image on your TV will do the same.
Example 2: Listening to Apple Music on a wireless speaker
- Open the Apple Music app.
- Pick a song, album, or playlist to play.
- On the Now Playing screen, tap the AirPlay Audio icon.
- In the following window, choose your target audio device
- Tap anywhere outside the window to return to the Apple Music app.
- You’ll now see that the AirPlay Audio icon is showing that you’re connected to Dining Room.
- Hit the Play button, and that’s it.
- Pro tip: You can swipe up from the bottom of your screen any time you’re playing audio on your iOS device to access the AirPlay Audio control.
Example 3: Watch a YouTube video on your iPad while playing the audio through your wireless speakers
- Open the YouTube app.
- Pick a video to play.
- Tap the AirPlay Video icon in the bottom right corner of the video window.
- In the following menu, choose your target audio device.
- The audio will begin playing on your chosen speaker.
- You could also do it by swiping up at any time from the bottom of the screen to access the Control Center, and pick your speaker (or TV) from the list.
How do I use AirPlay from an Apple TV?
The Apple TV and Apple TV 4K are already set up to act as AirPlay receivers for audio and video, but they can also be used as senders, although just for audio. You might want to do this if you don’t own a soundbar or an A/V receiver, but you do have some AirPlay 2 compatible speakers, such Apple’s HomePod.
To stream the audio for a movie or show you’re watching:
- While watching, swipe down on your Apple TV remote.
- Select Audio.
- Select each speaker or TV that you want to send the audio to.
To stream the audio for music that you’re listening to:
- Swipe down on your Apple TV remote.
- Select the AirPlay Audio button.
- Select each speaker or TV that you want to play the audio to.
- Pro tip: You can also press and hold on your Apple TV remote and select a speaker.
What else can AirPlay do?
With Apple’s new open stance to third-party A/V products via AirPlay 2, this technology is finally coming into its own as a way to manage multiple A/V devices around the home. We’ll be updating this article on a regular basis as new features are added, and new products are welcomed into the AirPlay family. Check back here for all the latest AirPlay news.
- AirPlay 2 hitting LG’s 2019 smart TVs on July 25
- Vizio updates even 3-year-old SmartCast TVs with AirPlay 2 and HomeKit
- Vizio’s new TVs and soundbars go on sale today. Here’s where and for how much
- What is Android TV? Google’s smart TV software fully explained
- How to use Apple’s truly wireless AirPods with every device you own