How Apple's AirPlay Is About To Change Your Life

Apple's AirPlay, a new feature arriving with today's release of iOS 4.2, marks a huge move into a (mercifully) wireless future, beaming music, videos and photos to speakers and screens all over your house. Here's why it's so damn cool.

What you need: • An iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch • An Apple TV or Airport Express

What Is AirPlay?

AirPlay is basically a new and improved version of AirTunes, Apple's protocol for streaming music from iTunes to AirPort Express-connected speakers. It expands things on several fronts: the type of media you can stream (videos and photos, in addition to music); the types of devices that can stream that media (iPads, iPhones and iPod touches) and the places to which that media can be streamed (Apple TVs and compatible third-party hardware, in addition to AirPort Expresseses).

How Will I Use It?

As anyone who has an Airport Express will attest, being able to beam media around the house wirelessly is awesome. And while AirPlay is, in essence, little more than Apple's own proprietary version of DLNA, in this case "Apple's own version" means that AirPlay is seamlessly stitched into the software of Apple's products and works in ways that DLNA can't. Here's how you'll use it.

To play music from your Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch over your AirPort Express-connected speakers. This is a big one. Apple sells the AirPort Express for $US100. Not too pricey but not all that cheap. I just bought a second, refurbished Express on eBay for $US45. That's cheap - cheap enough, if you're willing to buy them second-hand, to have wireless music all over your house. Like even in the bathroom and stuff. Sweet.

Up until now, Apple's Remote app was pretty good for controlling that wireless music goodness from iPhones and iPads, but it required your main Mac to be turned on, serving music via iTunes somewhere in the house. With AirPlay, you're able to stream music directly from your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Take out your iPod ears when you're walking into your apartment and instead of stopping the song set it to greet you through your living room speakers as you walk in the door. Yes...entrance music.

To send videos from your iPhone or iPad to your Apple TV-connected television. The second-gen Apple TV, as Apple described it, seemed pretty lame. Movie rentals are neat (maybe?), but even for a relatively cheap $129 it seemed like this thing didn't really do anything. Until we found out about AirPlay. Not only can the Apple TV receive whatever videos you've bought from iTunes or managed to wrangle into your iPad or iPhone's fussy Video app, it can play any video that plays through iOS's native video player, including YouTubes, Vimeos, Vevos, and whatever else.

Now, I know I can play YouTube videos directly on my TV through Panasonic VIeraCast, and I think I could figure out a way to pipe them in through my XBox, but I never do! Because it's a pain in the ass! And while it might seem decadent (moreso, even, than second-hand AirPort poop-tunes), I think you could make a case for AppleTV solely as a $129 big screen Vimeo watcher. Sure, the YouTube cat video pantheon might not really need the TV treatment, but I find myself watching beautifully produced, longer-than-bite-sized stuff on sites like Vimeo all the time. To me, short documentaries like this and music videos like this are far more deserving of my big screen real estate than whatever Kardashian hijinks E! happens to be showing.

Some very neat things in between.

What's very cool about AirPlay (and a little surprising, considering the sometimes-restrictive tendencies of the company behind it) is that it works in some useful but not-so-obvious ways you might not initially consider. Say you're in bed watching a video on your iPad. You can use AirPlay to stream just the audio to your Airport Express-connected stereo, affording you some extra boom over the iPad's tinny speakers but keeping the video right up close to your face on your tablet.

And while AirPort Express and Apple TV are a pretty affordable means to get your current speakers and screens AirPlay ready, Apple's also opened up AirPlay to third-party hardware, making way for stereos and picture frames that can receive media from iOS right out of the box.

What's Still Not So Magical?

With AirPlay, Apple's taking a big step into a rad future, one in which music and videos and photos exist on mobile devices but can be enjoyed through better speakers and bigger screens. But we're not all the way there by any means.

OS X is one weak link. Though iTunes is AirPlay-equipped, meaning you can send music and video in your iTunes library to AirPlay devices, I can't remember the last time I watched a video through iTunes. That means that on your Mac, YouTube, Vimeo, and the rest are still imprisoned in the browser.

The idea of AirPlay outside of your house is also still a question mark. Joel looked forward to the possibility of effortlessly throwing photos from your iPhone onto your friend's Apple TV, though it's unclear exactly how easy it will be to do so. And of course there's still the fact that amidst all this wireless nirvana, the media still has to exist on your iPad or iPhone, synced with that pesky USB tether. So there's still that to look forward to, the day when all the music you're listening to and the videos you're watching, whether they're on the net, your Mac, your phone or your tablet, can be beamed around via AirPlay. But I'm pretty damn excited about what we've got in the meantime.

Screenshot credit: Electric Nicholas

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    "With AirPlay, Apple’s taking a big step into a rad future, one in which music and videos and photos exist on mobile devices but can be enjoyed through better speakers and bigger screens"

    Oh,. so exactly like DLNA 1.5. The open standard which already exists and doesn't lock you into an ecosystem/cage.


      DLNA. Bam.

        Have either of you even tried using DLNA? I have, and I can tell you my finite time on Earth is way too valuable to be spent faffing about with that crap.

    Hrmmm, will stick with Squeeze Box

    Yep, no other device can do anything like this. Oh wait.... SqueezeBox, My Galaxy S, every DLNA 1.5 enabled device. This article is utter rubbish Nick. I understand this is from the your US counterparts, but can you not veto crud like this from the aussie site?


    This was an interesting article because it explained how this might work in real life which was news to me.

    They can do all this with Airplay yet you still can't sync your iphone\pad over a wifi network to itunes.

    Apple are seriously demented if they think we would prefer Airplay over wireless sync for devices.

    er.... how about DLNA?

    change my life? this changed the contents of my stomach.

    Ok then guys...(honest ask...really) so with a Windows 6/7 phone or Sony/Ericsson H'set you can play wirelessly to your TV using DLNA?...

    They should spice up their "DLNA" supported logo-info with this and other details that we are missing out on.

    Does anyone know whether there is any AirPlay API's in Snow Leopard (maybe from 10.6.5) that allow Mac software to use the Apple TV/Airport Express as external outputs?
    That would be sweet if VLC or Chrome or whatever could output to the TV...

    Very sad for this article. Is not correct to tell people that apple create something in this case. There is an open standard called DLNA that is used from everyone else in the word. Apple just want to increase its monopolisic, not compatible, close, system. Was tinking gizmodo was a good place to read about tecnology. Sad to admit i was wrong!

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