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What is Airplay 2? Apple’s multi-room speaker system explained

What is Airplay 2, how does it work and how does it improve on the original AirPlay? We reveal all you need to know about Apple’s AirPlay 2 feature, for controlling all of your music and home speakers from your iPhone or iPad.

Apple AirPlay 2 is the new, updated version of the company’s multi-room audio listening system, following on from the popular original version. Announced at WWDC 2017, AirPlay 2 is here to make multi-room listening easier and smarter.

So, if you have any Apple AirPlay speakers will they still work with this new version? How do you update your iPhone or iPad to iOS 11 so you can get the new AirPlay 2 feature? How does multi-room work? And what are the new features in AirPlay 2? All of these questions and more are answered in this complete guide.

Apple launched lots of new stuff at WWDC, including iOS 11, a new iPad Pro and plenty more besides. Check out our WWDC 2017 summary for an overview of Apple’s new software and devices.

What is AirPlay 2?

AirPlay is Apple’s smart connectivity system, which allows you to stream music from your iPad, iPhone or macOS device to your connected speakers. Streaming is done via your home WiFi network, although some devices don’t even need to be on the same Wi-Fi network as the controller device. Rather, they can work in ad-hoc mode.

The all-new AirPlay 2 is improved over the first version, as it now supports multi-room audio playback. This means you can connect multiple speakers to Apple’s Home app and control them all from that one place. You can have these multiple speakers play the same music or different tunes, it’s all up to you.

This is a seriously enticing offering that brings Apple up to speed with the likes of Sonos, who has been offering multi-room audio for some years now. The key advantage with Apple’s service is that AirPlay 2 will work across multiple brands of speaker, allowing for a greater range of pricing, design and spec options while still delivering the premium multi-room experience.

How does Airplay 2 work?

Apple’s Home app, which acts as a single place to control your smarthome, now offers all of the controls needed for AirPlay 2. That should mean that controlling your home tech is easier than ever, with a one-stop shop for everything from lights and heating to your background music.

As of iOS 11, this Home app offers controls for a shared Up Next play queue. That means you and others with access to your smart home setup can pop songs on that list for playing later. These won’t change what’s currently playing, but will line up the songs for later on.

AirPlay 2 works with Apple TV

If you have your Apple TV hooked up to a speaker, or even TV speakers, this streaming device can be used to play music using AirPlay 2. That includes the usual controls from your Apple Home app, to keep everything consistent.

Since Apple TV has Siri controls built-in, this means you can still control your music even when your iPhone is dead. Just walk within talking distance of the Apple TV and use voice commands to control the playback.

New speakers will work with AirPlay 2

Apple already has a few brands that it works with using its HomeKit ecosystem, who will offer full support for AirPlay 2. This includes the Apple-owned Beats.

Apple has said AirPlay 2 will work with a dozen of its partners, so far these include Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Marantz, Libratone, Bluesound, Denon, Dynaudio, Devialet, Naim and more. Apple’s own HomePod speaker of course also supports AirPlay 2, or will do when it’s released at the end of 2017.

Apple Music is upgraded for AirPlay 2

Apple also announced that its Music app will have a major update in iOS 11, offering even more features for those using AirPlay 2.

One new feature allows you to see what your friends are listening to, ideal for getting instant recommendations. There’s also a new MusicKit API, meaning other apps can integrate the app, for cross-functionality.

For instance, the Nike+ Run Club app already offers workout and running playlists via Apple Music. Shazam will also be a launch partner, so expect more functionality to follow that could help improve your AirPlay 2 multi-room listening experience.

How do I get AirPlay 2?

To get AirPlay 2 up and running, you simply need to update your iPhone or iPad to iOS 11. Once you’ve done this, your Apple Music and Home apps will be ready to be updated to their latest versions, which support AirPlay 2.

Once updated, any AirPlay 2 connected devices will appear inside of these apps, allowing you to control them with just a few taps.


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