Amidst bigger announcements last week, Apple quietly announced a new version of their “whole home audio” technology: AirPlay (formerly known as AirTunes). To my knowledge, here’s what’s new:
- The game changer: Apple appears to be opening up the AirPlay protocol to 3rd parties, as reported by Engadget here and here. Here’s a teaser from iHome on their upcoming AirPlay speakers:
What makes this exciting is setting up whole home audio with Apple + iTunes will now be a LOT easier. Before, the only option was to get an Airport Express, combine it with an amp and some speakers. Yes, complicated. Now, with AirPlay being built in 3rd party products, you’ll be able to get standalone speakers off-the-shelf, plug them into power and that’s it! They’ll just show up as speakers available in iTunes. Just like the Sonos S5. This is going to bring a lot more people to Apple’s whole home audio solution.
- This is a smaller thing, but I haven’t seen it reported anywhere else: iTunes 10’s AirPlay “audio zone” selector now features volume controls for each zone. Screenshots:
I’m excited about this, first, because it’s useful. We had a birthday party last weekend and had music going in the backyard and the living at the same time, but it was too loud in the backyard and not loud enough in the living room. This is what I needed to get the audio levels right. Sonos has always had this.
- The thing that excites me about both of these items is Apple is paying attention to distributing music around the house. Hopefully they have or will fix long-standing problems with AirTunes/AirPlay (like the “audio stream drops or cuts out” problem) as more people use this technology! And hopefully, by the same token, the technology will see more feature additions too… For example, I want to be able to access music services like Pandora and Rhapsody on my iTunes+Airport Express whole home audio system. And I want to be able to play one song in one room and another song in another room… all from the same instance of iTunes.