Under The Microscope

Status Report: iOS, AirPlay, and Airfoil

Recently, we’ve received a great deal of questions about iOS, AirPlay, and Airfoil. I thought it might be useful to write a post with information and answers to some of these questions.

Question #1: What exactly is AirPlay?

A: AirPlay is Apple’s new streaming protocol for sending audio and video around your house. Like Apple’s previous audio-transmission protocol AirTunes, it can be used to send audio from a Mac or PC to an AirPort Express or an Apple TV. Apple is also licensing the AirPlay hardware out to other manufacturers such as JBL and iHome, to make their own wireless audio receivers.

AirPlay also extends the functionality of this wireless streaming. With iOS 4.2, you can send audio from iOS devices out to AirPlay receivers. Finally, you can send video from iTunes, as well as the Videos, iPod, and YouTube apps on iOS, out to your Apple TV.

Apple has more details on AirPlay in iTunes and AirPlay in iOS.

Question #2: Does Airfoil support AirPlay?

A: The current versions of Airfoil for Mac and Airfoil for Windows both support sending audio to AirPlay receivers already. Grab them, and you’ll be able to send any audio from your Mac or Windows machine out to your AirPlay receivers.

Question #3: Can I send video from my Mac to my Apple TV, using Airfoil and AirPlay video?

A: Because of the limited number of video formats supported by iTunes and iOS devices, many people want more from AirPlay. At this time, it’s not yet possible to send video from other applications such as Airfoil.

That said, we’re currently analyzing the AirPlay video protocol, with the goal of making it possible to send additional video from your Mac out to the Apple TV. We hope to have more information on this one soon!

Question #4: Can I send audio from my iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad to my Mac, using Airfoil Speakers?

A: With these iOS devices, you can send audio from any application out to an AirPlay device, just by tapping the AirPlay button and selecting the output. This is built right into the OS.

Unfortunately, iOS and iTunes are deliberately limited to only send to Apple-approved hardware devices. That’s the Apple TV and AirPort Express, along with devices from licensed hardware partners (forthcoming from JBL, iHome, and others). As such, it’s not possible to send from an iOS application to Airfoil Speakers running on another machine or iOS device.

Question #5: Can I remotely control Airfoil, from my iOS device?

A: The idea here is to be able to change any of Airfoil’s settings – turning outputs on or off, adjusting volumes, or adjusting the source – from an iOS device. Right now, we don’t offer any remote control of the Airfoil application itself.

We may eventually add this functionality, but it’s not a part of our near-term plans.

Right now, the best bet is using VNC to control your Mac remotely. Once you set up VNC on your Mac, using it is a snap. With iOS VNC apps like Mocha VNC, you can view and control your whole Mac remotely. That means you can pull up Mocha VNC on your iOS device, view your Mac from across the house, and adjust Airfoil as needed.

As well, Airfoil is scriptable, which means anyone can make an application to control it. There’s at least one remote which will be making use of Airfoil’s scriptability, Reemote for Airfoil. The developer hopes to have that released by the end of the month.

Question #6: Can I remotely control the audio source Airfoil is transmitting, from my iOS device?

A: Here, the goal is to be able to adjust the audio source itself – if you want to skip a song that’s being transmitted or pause playback, without going over to your computer. With the forthcoming Airfoil 4, Airfoil Speakers on the Mac will offer this sort of remote control of some sources (iTunes, Pulsar, QuickTime Player, RealPlayer, and VLC, to start). We hope to port this functionality to all versions of Airfoil Speakers in the near future.

However, plenty of audio sources have some sort of remote control available for them right now. If you’re sending iTunes audio out via Airfoil (as you might if you wished to send it to your iPhone, receiving it with Airfoil Speakers Touch), you can use Apple’s free Remote application. Remote will enable you to have full control over what a remote copy of iTunes is doing.

There are other remotes for specific applications, such as VLC Remote. Finally, there are also multi-purpose remotes, like Rowmote, which control many different applications.

Closing

Hopefully this post helps answer some questions about both AirPlay and iOS. If you’re interested in sending audio to AirPlay devices, Airfoil can already help you. In the future, we’ll be working to do even more, so stay tuned!

10 Responses to “Status Report: iOS, AirPlay, and Airfoil”

  1. Siavash says:

    This is really tragic. The only MAJOR thing missing in Airfoil for iOS is the ability to control the Airfoil-send-to-device-buttons and adjust the separate volume-sliders. I cannot see why this isnt already built in in Airfoil for iOS. It’s just tragic.

    I wanna be able to listen to music, and with a tap turn off the music in my living room, right in the Airfoil-app on my iPhone.

  2. UltimateFrontier says:

    Thank you for the information. I know I can not wait for the new version and more!!

    Siavash: I don’t think the word tragic means what you think it means. I would like remote control of AirFoil too, but not having it isn’t such a problem. I have used VNC to control things and it works fine. Definitely going to check out this reemote app when it comes out though.

  3. Josh says:

    I love Rogue Amoeba and I love Airfoil and it’s been a wonderful tool to “fill the gaps” that Apple’s left behind. I primarily have used it for Pandora, playing on my Mac and streaming to my whole-home stereo.

    With Pandora on an iPhone and AirPlay able to stream it to my Airport Expresses now, I’ll likely use it a little less. But I am still happy to see it around, happy to see Rogue Amoeba still pushing the envelope forward and making their software better and better.

    I’m very disappointed that we can’t send Airplay audio from our iPhones to the original AppleTV however. Makes very little technical sense, since we can send Airplay audio from our iTunes (Mac/PC) to the same devices. Just like we could before with AirTunes. But with Airplay on an iDevice, only Airport Expresses (old and new) and 2nd Generation AppleTV’s show up as available destinations. It’s an odd, confusing distinction and I wish Apple wouldn’t have made it happen that way. The cynical side in me feels they deliberately removed such support (since it works in Airport Expresses that are much older than the 1st Gen AppleTV) as a way to push folks to upgrade their hardware.

    That said, my disappointment was swept away when I discovered a totally separate hack:

    http://www.macstories.net/tutorials/how-to-turn-your-iphone-and-ipad-into-airplay-speakers/

    By copying two files from a 2G AppleTV, a jailbroken iPhone now acts as an available Airtunes audio receiver. The best part about it, is that even Airfoil recognizes it. No need to launch “Airfoil Speakers Touch,” it just works, natively on the device. Makes the iPhone a great Airplay/Airfoil receiver, to use around the house.

    I can’t wait to see the additional goodness that Airfoil 4 will bring!

  4. Paul Kafasis says:

    Siavash: I’ll have to agree with UltimateFrontier – “tragic” seems a bit overwrought. As we noted, this is something we eventually hope to add. As for why it’s not already there? Because we have limited resources and nearly limitless feature requests. It’s on our list. In the meantime, VNC works well, and at least one remote app is being made.

    Seriously, “tragic”?

    Josh: This is how we originally tested that Airfoil would support the AppleTV. Before we had the hardware, we had the software running on test devices. That said, this doesn’t do much more than running Airfoil Speakers Touch does.

    As for the ATVv1, it requests some tricky FairPlay DRM stuff which no other receiver (AirPort Express g, AirPort Express n, AppleTVv2) asks for. Our best guess is that this portion of transmitting was never implemented for iOS, likely out of laziness more than malice. Of course, the fact that it may encourage sales of the v2 certainly doesn’t hurt either, but nothing was removed in iOS, support was just never added.

  5. David A says:

    Airfoil+Bluetooth A2DP receiver?

    I’d love to be able to play audio from my iOS device through my mac to the big speakers in my office. Two big advantages over just using iTunes: First, for audiobooks, (I record NPR as .m4b files), you can play at 2X on an iOS device, but iTunes can’t do this. Second, you don’t have to worry about where you’ve left off in listening to a bookmarkable audio file. I’ve found there are problems with syncing the bookmarkable location.

    Airplay is obviously closed and limited, but there is another way: A Bluetooth A2DP receiver for the Mac. It could be integrated into AirFoil as a source. It could also control the iOS device playback (start/stop, next/previous). It would require no software on the iOS device. It would require that the mac emulate a bluetooth headset. The only downsides are range and audio quality.

    This is possible on a PC:
    http://www.a2dp.info/Articles/Using-Desktop-as-A2DP-Receiver.html

    I hope you’ll consider adding this to Airfoil, or making an add-on.
    Thanks,
    David

  6. Siavash says:

    Ok, I get it, tragic might be a bit overkill, but, it still makes me a little sad that it hasn’t been added. I guess I’ll have to stick with Reemote for a while. It works (works quite well actually!), but I still have to switch to a different app.

    And excuse me, I didn’t know that you have limited recources; actually, I don’t know much about you company at all.

  7. Paul Kafasis says:

    David: I can’t say this is at all likely, but, who knows what may happen.

    Siavash: Well, every company has limited resources. Heck, look at Apple – how long did it take to get copy and paste or MMS on the iPhone?

    Saying “I cannot see why this isnt already built in…” about pretty much anything just strikes the wrong chord. We get that you want the feature, and we always want to hear from enthusiastic users! Framing it as a massive failure, however, is generally a bad route to go.

  8. Siavash says:

    Paul: Yes, I agree, and I apologize for coming out as rude or irritated. Of course it’s a bad route to go. Still, I really do think that a key feature is missing, and I really do think that it should have the highest priority. But that’s just one customer’s opinion.

    In general I LOVE Rogue Amoebas products and couldn’t live without them. But this little missing feature has annoyed me for quite some time know and I’ve been waiting for a long time for it to be added. I guess that’s the reason for my bad choice of words in my earlier comments. Once again, I truly apologize.

    Keep up the great work you are doing, and as long as the on/off buttons are anywhere on your to-do list, I guess I should be satisfied :)

  9. Paul Kafasis says:

    Siavash: It’s on our list, certainly. And like I said, we see that it’s a high priority for you, but as you said, you’re just one customer. We take an aggregate of all the feedback we get, and work on priorities from that. So again, we love getting feedback, but it’s good to be aware that no single user represents all of our users.

    Anyhow, stay tuned!

  10. Ian Bird says:

    Have you considered some type of “Application Hijack” instead of AirPlay supported video player? Probably an insane idea, but i’d love to have an application (like the full Plex Mac client) being accessible from my Apple TV 2G. I guess this is a Mac/AirPlay implementation of Windows RemoteApp.


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