History of Apple AirPlay… We Mean AirTunes

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Backtracks' Podcast and Audio Player works with Apple AirPlay

As a companion to the release of Backtracks’ Apple AirPlay support we wanted to give you a brief history of AirPlay. First off, AirPlay started as AirTunes 😲.

Apple AirPlay’s Origins… It Was Originally Called AirTunes

  • Apple AirPlay is a proprietary technology (developed in-house) that first launched alongside iOS 4 in 2010. However, the first iteration of the software that would become known as AirPlay was AirTunes. AirTunes was a 2004 software predominately used to stream audio from iTunes to Airport Express.
  • Despite the advance that AirPlay represented it was still limited in some ways. Eventually, Apple launched AirPlay 2 with iOS 11.4.
  • Unlike the previous iteration, AirPlay allows users to stream simultaneously to multiple speakers and has multiple HomePod support. Unsurprisingly, these features represent subtle advances in the technology; such as, preloading audio data into the speaker before broadcasting it.
  • Along with other additions like AirPlay Mirroring, updates to the protocol over the years have drastically simplified the setup, pairing, and streaming processes. Apple has advanced the technology to a point where device streaming is a simple matter of pressing a button or two.

AirPlay’s Evolution and Transformation

  • AirTunes was originally conceived and created as a way to wirelessly stream audio data. In 2010, Apple evolved the concept (and changed the name) with AirPlay to include streaming video and image data alongside the original audio streaming capabilities. Screen mirroring would be introduced later.
  • Originally, AirPlay only supported streaming to Apple TV, but iOS 4.3 expanded AirPlay to include third-party hardware like dedicated audio devices. The streaming protocol was further enhanced with iOS 11.4.
  • The 11.4 update is notable because it introduced Apple’s first foray into multi-room technology. But it is also significant because AirPlay 2 became available on a range of third-party television manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, and LG. And at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, Apple announced a new partnership with television manufacturers to continue expanding support for AirPlay2.

How AirPlay Works

  • Both AirPlay 1 and 2 are at their core communications (i.e., transmission and reception) protocols that require a shared network connection. This shared wireless (i.e. Wi-Fi) connection is what sets AirPlay apart from streaming software that utilizes short distance wireless protocols (i.e. Bluetooth).
  • Because AirPlay began as a proprietary protocol, AirPlay’s initial functions required Apple hardware on both sides (i.e., transmission and reception) of communication; recent updates have allowed third-party hardware to be involved in the communication process. Your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and HomePod will now stream to speakers created by Sonos or televisions created by Samsung.
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