Apple’s AirPlay 2 Technology Explained


AirPlay 2 is an extension of the original AirPlay technology that allows for wireless audio streaming to multiple devices, called multi-room playback. It utilizes enhanced buffering to eliminate latency and provides for multi-device control from either iOS, tvOS or macOS.

Originally, AirPlay was introduced in 2010 and provided for wireless audio and video streaming from iOS devices to, say, an Apple TV. Later, macOS Mountain Lion added display mirroring.

At WWDC, in early June, 2017 Session 509 introduced AirPlay 2 and added the newly announced HomePod as one of the devices to be supported. The technology will also be opened to 3rd party audio manufacturers, via APIs, and companies such as Bang & Olufsen, Bose, beats, Bowers & Wilkins, Denon, Marantz, McIntosh, and Sonos, to name a few, have announced support.

AirPlay 2 devices.
From WWDC 2017. Image credit: Apple

Apple’s signature product for AirPlay 2 is the HomePod. On January 23rd, Apple announced that HomePod preorders would start on January 26th and deliveries would commence in February 9th. However, for this launch, multi-room support via AirPlay 2 won’t be available. The HomePod will also lack stereo support. “Apple says those features will come later this year, but isn’t offering a firm time commitment.

What AirPlay 2 Can Do

AirPlay 2’s primary function is to support multiple audio devices. AirPlay 2 will require an iOS device that supports iOS 11, but which version of iOS 11 it will appear in is not known. (It was pulled from the beta of iOS 11.2.) If used with Apple TV, it must be an Apple TV 4th gen or Apple TV 4K. The Apple TV can be used to transmit audio to multiple AirPlay 2 enabled devices/speakers.

AirPlay 2 logic diagram.
AirPlay 2 logic diagram. Image credit: Apple

AirPlay 2 will add speaker control to the iOS Control center app so that one can individually control, say, the volume of multiple speakers in different places on a Wi-Fi network. The WWDC session seemed to suggest that AirPlay 2 is designed to work only with audio, and I’ve seen nothing at all about streaming video to multiple devices.

It is believed that even with AirPlay 1, you’ll be able to stream music from your iTunes library, but our Jeff Gamet reports that “internet streaming—and likely telling Siri what music to play—will require an Apple Music subscription.” [Link below.]

Finally, at WWDC 2017, Apple announced an AirPlay 2 feature called “Shared Up Next.” This would allow multiple users to add songs to a Now Playing playlist in Apple Music.

If you’re planning to purchase a HomePod, this article has more information about compatible iPhone and iPad models.

7 thoughts on “Apple’s AirPlay 2 Technology Explained

  • I’m surprised it’s taking Apple so long to get AirPlay 2 working properly. How hard can it be? I’m also disappointed that HomePod won’t ship with stereo and multi-room capabilities. Again, how hard can this be?
    Looks like HomePod will be a great product…by 2020.

  • “AirPlay 2 will require an iOS device that supports iOS 11, but which version of iOS 11 it will appear in is not known.“
    So Airplay 2 won’t be available on a Mac?

  • “internet streaming—and likely telling Siri what music to play—will require an Apple Music subscription.”

    I have, and had, many Apple products and convinced others that their digital life can be better by being in the Apple ecosystem. But Apple lost me with their insistence with Apple Music that any high definition music files I already have would be reduced down to 320kps to use Apple Music.
    No thank you.

    1. Very good point Jag120. The files sitting in iTunes on my iMac are a mixture of AAC (iTunes purchases) and ALAC files (ripped from my CD library) I know of many others who do not use Apple Music for the reasons you mention. I am of the school of thought that believes the recording process has a more significant effect on SQ than file type. But I am not an audiophile so my opinion on this subject is properly (I believe) discounted.

  • I am missing something obviously. Someone please explain the advantages of Airplay 2 over my current set up:

    I have my home network set up through newest generation AirPort Extreme as my router, 4 Apple TVs, 1 AirPort Extreme, and one Airplay speaker are all in separate rooms. They are all hard wired with Cat 6 ethernet cabling with strategically placed gigabit switches (also hard wired of course). With additional Blu Ray/ DVD players, game consoles etc there are a total of 15 devices on my network. (including an old headless MacBook Pro I have ripped all my home movies and copy protected DVD’s on that too is available to the Apple TVs

    The ATV’s are subsequently connected to AV Receivers (via either HDMI or optical as is the AirPort Extreme (optical) The airplay speaker is simply connected via ethernet cable. The iTunes music library is sitting on my iMac which of course is also hard wired to my home network. When the iMac is on and iTunes is open I can control the playing of my entire library including the volume in any combination of rooms from any of the Apple TV’s or iMac or my newer MacBook Pro.

    Through the Remote app I can control all functions also from my iPad, iPhone, and even my iPod touch 2nd Gen!!! (not to mention my children’s MacBooks their iPhones, iPads and iPod touches!!

    Total control from every Apple device I own. NO latency issues ever. I have been streaming music in my home for 7 years. I upgraded my AirPort Extreme to the newest generation and have added Apple TV’s over the years. Never one problem with “dropouts” or other streaming issues. Since I am an Apple Music subscriber I can even stream music that is not on my iMac hard drive. Now someone explain to me how Airplay 2 is gonna improve my set up? Thank you

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