Under The Microscope

Thoughts On Airfoil for iPhone

Over on our Twitter account, I’ve posted about some of the testing we’re doing for Airfoil Speakers on the iPhone. We’re currently working to make the iPhone and iPod Touch available as output sources in Airfoil for Mac and Airfoil for Windows, just as we’ve done with our Airfoil Speakers on other platforms.

Discussion of Airfoil Speakers for the iPhone inevitably leads to questions about making Airfoil for the iPhone. We even talked about it way back in February, before the iPhone SDK had been unveiled. Without a doubt, we’d love to make Airfoil for the iPhone. Unfortunately, right now, it’s not feasible. Let’s examine why.

What is Airfoil for iPhone?

People actually have a few different ideas on what Airfoil for iPhone would be. Prior to Apple’s Remote.app, it might have been a remote control for iTunes running on a desktop machine. It could also be a remote control for a copy of Airfoil running on a desktop.

My vision of Airfoil for iPhone, however, is actually quite similar to Airfoil on the Mac. It would enable you to send any audio from the iPhone to remote outputs, just like on the Mac. If you’ve got a great new song, you could send it to your friend’s Apple TV while you visited. You could control audio for your whole house, by transmitting your favorite playlist from the iPhone to multiple AirPort Express units. The control Airfoil for iPhone could provide would be astounding, and it would all be in the palm of your hand.

Desires & Limitations

It sounds great, and we’d love to make it. Better still, we’ve had heard hundreds of requests for it from you, our users. The problem is that due to Apple’s iPhone SDK agreement and the way the App Store works, it is simply not possible for us to create an Airfoil for iPhone worthy of the name.

Failure #1: Getting Any Audio

The biggest hurdle preventing Airfoil for iPhone is that we can’t access other applications’ audio. We want you to be able to transmit Pandora, AOL Radio, and any other audio application. We have code that does this on the Mac and Windows and there’s no technical reason it couldn’t be done on the iPhone as well. Legally, however, it would completely violate the SDK agreement.

Failure #2: Getting iPod Audio

Instead of working with all audio, we could just work with iPod music. That would still be useful to send your own music from the iPhone to remote outputs around the house. Unfortunately, music files aren’t accessible the way things like Contacts and Photos are. With no legitimate way to access the iPod’s music, this too is a non-starter, due to the SDK’s restrictions.

Failure #3: The Only Solution Stinks

Right now there’s really only workable option in creating Airfoil for iPhone, and that’s to handle music storage ourselves. This has all sorts of issues. Users would need to manually manage a second library (in addition to the iPod) and store music twice (in our library and the iPods’). Getting audio onto the device is also bothersome, as there’s no standard way to do this. We know this solution isn’t right. It’s clunky, it requires far too much work on the user’s side, and it wouldn’t work the way we or our users wanted. As such, it’s not really a solution at all.

Jailbreaking

Users often ask if it would be possible to make an application that only ran on jailbroken phones. Doing so would mean that our only limitations would be technical hurdles, just like on Mac OS X, and we love a technical challenge. Unfortunately, we’re also running a business, and making software that requires jailbroken phones simply does not work out for us, from a business perspective.

Where Are We?

So where does that leave us? Right now, we’re stuck hoping that things change. We’ve examined our options, and found them all lacking in major ways. As much as we’d love to have Airfoil for iPhone, both for ourselves and for our users, we simply can not do it right currently. If the SDK limitations change, or Apple at least makes it possible to access iPod music files, we may revisit this. For now, however, Airfoil for iPhone is a non-starter.

We believe both you and we would be best served if we could create this software. In lieu of that, however, we’re simply working on other products. For now, keep your eyes peeled for Airfoil Speakers for the iPhone. When we’re done, you’ll be able to transmit audio from your Mac or Windows machine right to Airfoil Speakers for iPhone, giving you portable pocket speakers. We’ve been testing it for a few days, and it’s very cool. We don’t have a release date yet, but keep watching for more information!

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