Apple AirPlay 2 adds multi-room audio capabilities

Apple announced AirPlay 2 as part of iOS 11 announcements at WWDC 2017. It adds multi-room audio capabilities to AirPlay’s existing abilities. AirPlay 2 also enables the use of Siri to initiate and control playback to compatible speakers and devices (such as Apple TV).

AirPlay 2 is Apple’s followup to the original AirPlay Wi-Fi-based music playback standard. While Sonos popularized Wi-Fi-based multi-room audio playback, Bluetooth became ubiquitous, and multi-platform Wi-Fi audio standards spread in popularity, Apple lacked a competing story until today’s announcement.

AirPlay 2 shares some competitive similarities to the competing Chromecast Built-in (aka Google Cast) standard, but based on current announcements it lacks video capabilities and partners with mainstream volume. According to the IHS Markit research group, the latter aspect indirectly infers that there is a third competitive weakness compared to Chromecast Built-in, which is integration cost. 

With the arguable exception of Beats and Bose, AirPlay 2’s third-party hardware companies are either at the higher end of the market or with products at the high end of consumer price ranges. IHS Markit says that if this is indicative of the partner base for AirPlay 2, it is likely that AirPlay 2 shares the same limiting trait that shackled AirPlay: cost.

In today’s competitive environment filled with ways to play music wirelessly, AirPlay 2’s main benefit is in its built-into-iOS convenience. Its fortunes in terms of mainstream penetration into the third party hardware landscape will lie in whether or not Apple solves the issue of the cost adder for enabling AirPlay, according to IHS Markit.

The research group expects that AirPlay 2 largely will remain a niche proposition for consumers able to afford high-end peripherals – those devices with a high enough total bill of materials cost able to absorb the AirPlay wireless chipset cost within.

Lastly, Apple noted that AirPlay 2 speakers are able to be added as controllable devices in HomeKit households. This implies by extension that the only audio output devices that are going to be available as a common audio resource within the HomeKit smart home, are going to be AirPlay 2 compatible speakers and devices. Apple's long-term lock-in play with the AirPlay 2 standard may run much broader than simply multi-room music playback.