Tuesday, September 7, 2010

iTunes AirPlay's Promise

One of the most intriguing and exciting new technologies that was introduced during Apple's media event last week is called AirPlay.  In a nutshell, AirPlay allows you to share your music, videos, and photos across multiple devices over Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

If you are familiar with AirPlay's predecessor, AirTunes, you'll you're probably very familiar with the concept (see High-End Multi-Room Music Without the High-End Prices).  With AirTunes, you had the ability to broadcast music that played on your iTunes library or your Apple TV to other speakers that were connected using Apple's AirPort Express.  AirPlay takes that to a whole new level. by supporting the transmission of additional data (e.g. information about the song playing such as the name of the song, artist, and album cover), video, and photos.  With the release of iOS 4.2, this will enable all of Apple's portable devices to stream such media directly to any AirPlay-enabled device, including the Apple TV.

A few of the exciting scenarios that are possible:

  • Music in every room.   Apple's AirPlay page already shows Denon, iHome, JBL, Bowers and Wilkins, and Marantz as AirPlay partners.  What this essentially means is that all these partners plan to have AirPlay-enabled devices from stand-alone speakers to high-end receivers.  iHome already announced an AirPlay speaker that will have operate using a rechargeable battery.  Put one of these speakers in each room of your house, select the AirPlay icon in Tunes and select the named speakers to pipe the music to each individual room.  Although you can already do this with AirPort Express devices and third-party speakers, the wires are ugly (the AirPort Express needs to be plugged in and the speakers usually need to be plugged with a wire between the two).  In addition, the AirPort Express alone costs $99.
  • Immediate access to iPhone/iPod touch content.  You're having a ball taking pictures and videos using your iPhone or iPod touch and are very excited sharing them with your family.  You walking into your living room, turn on the big screen TV with the new Apple TV connect to it, press a button on your mobile device and bam!  Your pictures and videos are displayed on the big screen.  No wires, no transferring hassles!
  • Watch on iPad/iPhone/iPod touch and Continue on Big Screen.  Although this scenario is not necessarily that practical, it's got the super cool factor.  You start watching a movie or a TV show on your iPad or another iOS device and with the push of a button, that show can be streamed to your big screen TV through the Apple TV.  Theoretically, you can pipe the show to multiple TVs at the same time and still have it shown on the iPad.
There are many other scenarios where this technology could get more interesting.  It all depends on how creative the device manufactures get.

Update (Sep 8, 2010):  If you are interested in iHome's rechargeable AirPlay speaker, you can sign up to get details on their website.  The site indicates availability for the holiday season.

Update #2 (Sep 9, 2010):  News reports indicates that Denon's awesome (but expensive) AVR-4311CI receiver will receive AirPlay support this fall through a firmware update.  The receiver's product sheet has already been updated to that effect.

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