While AirPlay 2 still hasn’t shipped, the feature is shaping up to be quite impressive in recent betas. Most notable is the ability to control audio playback on one device from Siri on another device, a feature we wrote about last fall that recently started working in beta…
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When we wrote about AirPlay 2 and everything we knew about it last fall, we described this feature but couldn’t yet test it:
…Home app support extends Siri control to AirPlay 2 speakers including multi-room audio playback so you can tell Siri on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV to play Jazz Radio in the Kitchen and Living Room using just your voice.
Parts of AirPlay 2 had appeared in developer beta versions of iOS 11, but Siri control for AirPlay 2 speakers was untested until iOS 11.4 beta for iPhone and iPad and tvOS 11.4 beta for Apple TV 4 and Apple TV 4K.
Now it’s possible to try for yourself if you’re running the developer or public beta versions of both software updates, and it’s really impressive. You can tell Siri on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV to play music or podcasts on another device as long as it is an AirPlay 2 speaker.
During the beta period, AirPlay 2 speakers are limited to those attached to Apple TV 4 and Apple TV 4K running tvOS 11.4, but HomePod should join the club in a software update presumably timed with the release of iOS and tvOS 11.4 (if Apple releases AirPlay 2 and doesn’t pull it for further development). Third-party AirPlay 2 speakers will also hit the market in the future (more on that in a bit) but we don’t know exactly how they will work yet.
For now, here’s an example of something you can try if you’re running the latest betas:
In this example, Siri found the right podcast feed and episode, sent the instructions to Apple TV, which turned the TV on thanks to HDMI-CEC, and the podcast episode started playing on the connected speakers.
The podcast episode is streaming directly on the Apple TV, too, since tvOS has the Podcasts app; there’s no peer-to-peer playback from iPhone to Apple TV happening. This also works with music since Apple TV has the Music app built-in, and HomePod should work the same way when it has the HomePod 11.4 update. When using AirPlay 2 to remotely control playback this way, the iPhone can totally go offline and playback won’t be interrupted.
That’s why third-party AirPlay 2 speakers are a bit of a mystery for now. Presumably they will not play music and podcasts directly, but AirPlay 2 does support classic peer-to-peer playback with major benefits. You can target multiple speakers from iOS and tvOS for the first time, and latency is dramatically reduced.
Tapping play/pause from a source device almost instantly controls playback on the target speaker which is a big boost from the current two-second latency, and audio that you AirPlay can have a dramatically longer buffer so a quick phone call or network disconnection won’t immediately interrupt playback. The most ideal scenario, however, is having the AirPlay 2 speaker play audio directly so there is dependence.
Multi-room playback can also be initiated from the speaker picker manually, or you can use Siri to start multi-room playback using voice.
For example, I used Siri on my iPhone to play music on the living room Apple TV, then asked Siri on my iPhone to also play that music on another Apple TV in a different room. The music syncs up and suddenly you’re using Siri on the iPhone to control whole home music playback.
Multi-room playback with AirPlay 1 is limited to iTunes on a Mac or PC with no iOS support, so this is a major step forward.
One oddity here is the transcription consistently says ‘to’ instead of ‘too’ unless you tap to edit the text as I did in my screenshot, but the request works the same either way.
Another bug is Siri control doesn’t yet work if you have Apple TV and HomePod in the same room regardless of how you name each device or address them (hopefully this is resolved when HomePod is updated).
And as Jeff has shown, you can easily tap between multiple speakers and independently control volume on multiple speakers from Control Center with AirPlay 2.
Siri control from iPhone or iPad can even remotely initiate and control video podcasts on Apple TV, but you can’t yet control other video sources like iTunes movies and TV shows this way yet. Strictly music and podcasts for now, but maybe that will change in a future update.
Another point to note is that Siri control of AirPlay 2 speakers doesn’t work everywhere (yet). It currently works on Siri from iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV running the latest betas. We think Siri on HomePod will work following a software update, but Siri on Apple Watch and Mac can’t control AirPlay 2 speakers even on the latest betas.
So what speakers will work with AirPlay 2? HomePod is the premier AirPlay 2 speaker, and Sonos has announced that some of its speakers will fully support AirPlay 2. Sonos recently specified that AirPlay 2 will work with the new Sonos One, Sonos Playbase, and Sonos Play:5 (or any Sonos speaker with touch controls) with limited support extended to older paired Sonos speakers. Sonos also appears to have an update to the Playbar coming next month that will presumably qualify.
Apple has also said that Beats, Bang & Olufsen, Naim, Bose, Devialet, Dynaudio, Polk, Denon, McIntosh, Marantz, Bowers & Wilkins, Libratone, Definitive Technology, and BlueSound will all have AirPlay 2 speakers in the future.
Apple TV 4 and Apple TV 4K will also turn any connected speaker into an AirPlay 2 speaker whether that’s your TV, a sound bar, or a surround sound system. If you have a house full of Apple TVs, AirPlay 2 will suddenly enable whole home audio playback without buying smart speakers for every room.
A big unknown currently is speakers connected to AirPort Express. Evidence appeared in iOS 11.4 beta briefly that suggested Apple plans to update AirPort Express routers to work with AirPlay 2, but Apple also officially discontinued its AirPort lineup so that may never ship.
The major disclaimer here is that AirPlay 2 was originally unveiled as part of iOS 11, but ongoing development has delayed its release until at least iOS 11.4 which we expect later this month or early next month. It’s possible Apple decides it needs more time before releasing AirPlay 2 again — it hasn’t said when we should expect AirPlay 2 — but performance and feature completion is much further along and polished in iOS 11.4 beta than previous betas.