With the return of AirPlay 2 in iOS 11.4, it appears that Apple still has some tricks up its sleeve. Readers and Redditors are reporting that the AirPort Express (the ‘latest’ model released in 2012) is showing up as a speaker accessory in the Home app.
This suggests the new AirPort Express will support AirPlay 2 to participate in features like multi-room playback alongside other speakers like the HomePod.
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Unsurprisingly, the feature isn’t fully-baked yet — like AirPlay 2 in general. The Express speakers are appearing in the Add Accessory view of the Home app, but trying to connect and add them to the HomeKit Home is failing for everyone who has attempted.
It probably requires a software update to be released for the AirPort Express units to make this feature come together and work. We have seen similar holdups with AirPlay 2 and HomePod interactions, where the iOS device advertises features like stereo speaker pairing but cannot actually succeed without corresponding firmware support on the hardware.
Despite the current limitations, it’s certainly promising news. Apple has reportedly canned its AirPort hardware division and had not previously announced plans to integrate the AirPort Express with the modern AirPlay 2 features.
Based on behavior in the first iOS 11.4 beta, it appears support will be limited to the 2012 AirPort Express generation only. Older models are not showing up in the Home app at all.
The appearance of AirPort Express in Home app mirrors how the Apple TV works under AirPlay 2; they also appear as speaker devices in the Home app.
Of course, we don’t know when AirPlay 2 will actually be released. It has been testing in multiple beta versions of iOS 11, having originally been promised for iOS 11.0 and subsequently delayed indefinitely, with the HomePod launching without these significant features. The HomePod page currently advertises AirPlay multi-room and stereo pairing features as coming ‘later this year’.
We’ll be keeping tabs on this feature as the iOS 11.4 beta cycle continues. iOS 11.4 is not expected to be released to the public until the summer, so there’s a lot of time for these features to be fleshed out. Equally, there is no guarantee that AirPlay 2 will be included in the final 11.4 software. It could be removed and pushed back to even later in the year.