AirPlay Music Streaming Needs A Rethink

28 August 2015

Ben Lovejoy:

You don’t have to take my word for it that AirPlay needs some love: just go searching for newly-launched AirPlay speaker systems. The only company we could find showing one at CES this year was Moshi (watch out for a review by Zac Hall shortly).

Whether it’s manufacturers deciding that AirPlay is too unreliable to invest, or consumers unwilling to pay the price premium for a protocol that doesn’t give them everything they want, clearly there’s an issue. Apple needs to fix the reliability issues that appear to stem from flaws in the protocol itself, license it to manufacturers at a reasonable price and then give it enough PR that mass-market consumers get to know about it.

The AirPlay audio streaming technology is based on old protocols reaching back into the AirTunes days … it needs a revamp. The official Apple answer is to buy your own speakers and hook up an AirPort Express which is both clunky and prohibitively expensive.

The success of portable Bluetooth speakers says to me that there is a consumer desire for wireless music streaming in the home. I think Apple should re-engineer AirPlay as a WiFi protocol that requires an internet connection. This means it could also sync up with HomeKit and be controlled remotely, outside of the home network. Essentially, each AirPlay receiver would stream music from an iCloud / Apple Music server. This means individual devices do not have to manage the streaming work locally. A friend could stream a playlist at your house and leave with his iPhone in his pocket without interrupting the music. It’s the Chromecast model.

Making things based around an internet model simplifies so much. Apple could do some really intelligent things, like automatically silence speakers when you leave home. Couple a reworked protocol with some pretty speakers and you’ve got something good.