Apple AirPlay History

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Apple AirPlay History

Apple AirPlay is a proprietary technology developed by Apple, Inc. Airplay launched with iOS 4 in 2010 and was updated to AirPlay2 with iOS 11.4. AirPlay is, at its core, a wireless communication protocol for Apple hardware.

Apple AirPlay History


Background/Origins

  • 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 single button.

AirPlay’s 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 it 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.

Research Strategy:

We began our inquiry with an investigation into Apple’s site as well as industry news and analysis sites. From these sources, we were able to assemble a background on AirPlay technology, its beginnings, and evolution into what it is today. Additionally, we were able to confirm that the protocol was indeed created in-house by Apple. However, Apple provides no public information on the specific identities of the team or individuals that developed the protocol.

To locate that information, we returned to the material provided by Apple for the launch of iOS 4 and 11.4. We did this looking for any mentions of the group or individuals that may have worked on the technology. We further expanded our search to the Worldwide Developers Conference. Both attempts yielded no useful information. We next expanded our search to industry databases, news platforms, and business publications. What we learned is that Apple prefers to maintain a certain level of discretion in such matters to minimize predation and theft of its technology and personnel. We conclude that if the information does exist, it does so securely (under physical and legal barriers) within Apple, Inc.
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