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!

31 Responses to “Thoughts On Airfoil for iPhone”

  1. Phil Bridges says:

    My eyes are indeed peeled, my credit card is on standby, Airfoil speakers for my iPod Touch, can’t wait!


  2. Matt says:

    I am continually infuriated and frustrated by Apple’s policy of locking down the iPhone. As great as it is now, and as great as some of the apps are, their policy limits just how great it could be. I really hope they open it completely up and let developers and users flourish.


  3. Mike says:

    You mentioned cracked iPhones. What about making an app that requires a ‘crack’ itself to run. You load Airfoil for iPhone … it does some mundane things … then you key in a ‘crack’ and “hey presto!” it does the kinds of marvelous things you’d like it to. Of course, you’d buy the ‘crack’ separately.


  4. Dylan says:

    I’m frustrated by this too. It seems pretty crazy to me that apps don’t have access to the iTunes library. The day the SDK was released I excitedly searched for the Song Picker which turned out to not exist (yet?).


  5. Dan says:

    Ok, so what’s the email address at Apple where all of us Airfoil users can send requests to have the SDK terms modified. I mean who wouldn’t want the ability to play your music to another computer or directly to Airport Express. Is Apple just trying to figure out how to do it from Itunes first, so they can look cool? Sure I’d like to play out from my itunes collection on my iphone, but I’d also like to play music from Pandora to my Airport Express from the iphone. Handheld music – it’s not technically impossible, but just limited by Apple, so what’s the email address to protest?


  6. Dan says:

    Here’s the webpage to send comments to Apple to let them know that you want them to allow Rogue Amoeba to develop Airfoil for the iPhone for streaming audio:
    http://www.apple.com/feedback/iphone.html

    Or if you have Airport Express wifi, then add a comment here to:
    http://www.apple.com/feedback/airportexpress.html

    Here’s what I sent on the Airport Express Page:
    “As an owner of an iPhone, Airport Express (and several Macs), I’m wondering why isn’t the iPhone able to send music to the Airport Express, seems like it would be very, very simple – just like from iTunes on a laptop or desktop has the option to send music to Airport Express.

    It’s not good enough to have a “remote” control from the iPhone of another Mac…I want to send the music directly from my iPhone to my Airport Express to my stereo speakers.

    And also can you open up the SDK terms and conditions so that Rogue Amoeba can develop their Airfoil product for the iPhone then I can play other streaming audio from websites to Airport Express from the iPhone also. Please.

    To Summarize:
    1. allow iPhone to send from iTunes directly to Airport Express
    2. allow Rogue Amoeba to develop Airfoil for the iPhone for streaming audio from websites.”


  7. Kyle says:

    Airfoil Speakers on my iPod touch would be nice; just make sure I can use my headphones. It almost seems like an oversight by Apple that I cannot simply use their Remote app to play my iTunes library on my iPod touch.

    As far as Airfoil for my iPod touch, I’m not so interested in sending audio from my iPod as much as I would be interested in controlling Airfoil for Mac with my iPod. Any audio that is on my iPod is also on my Mac, so I don’t see the benefit of sending audio from my iPod. However, there have been more than a few times when I’ve wanted to send an internet stream to my remote speakers but I’ve been in another room. Had to stop doing the dishes or whatever to walk over to the mac and start Airfoil and my audio. So, maybe more of an “Airfoil Remote.”

    By the way, thanks. You guys do amazing work.


  8. kangham says:

    You can’t do it b/c Apple holds a patent on this and will need to enforce it. Great concept, beat them to market and put it on another capable player.


  9. mados123 says:

    Not sure of the costs associated with this strategy but I say develop the “Airfoil Remote” for Windows Mobile and then for the Blackberry OS. By using this approach, with the other OSs, Apple would look more than foolish to continue preventing the ability to provide similar functionality as the SONOS units, including a remote control with access to any online music service or playback of anything from the computer. I say go for it!!!! (Then again, I am not funding the R&D:-)


  10. Maddox says:

    I would really just looking for a “remote App” on the iPhone where I could for iPhone.


  11. James Katt says:

    Apple will enforce its iPhone SDK Rules. Period.
    Let other competitors allow developers complete freedom to muck up their systems.

    People will come to iPhone because of its cleaner, easier, simpler system.

    Realize the primary reason people hate their cell phones: As Steve Jobs said, cell phones were too complicated.

    Go ahead, develop for Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Linux. Apple is not stopping you.

    I happen to like a clean interface with stability. The iPhone is not like a desktop or laptop. It has real resource limitations and a mandate for stability. Millions of users realize this too.

    Thus you can’t do everything on an iPhone. That is the way it is.

    If you want to do more, write for any other platform. Simple as that.

    Of course, it may not make as much money as for developing on iPhone.

    If the SDK prohibits it, then move on to another project that is allowed. Simple.


  12. Dave says:

    I agree with Kyle above. At the moment having a remote app to control my desktop airfoil from my iPhone would be very useful. That way I could switch from Pandora to LastFM and other music streaming apps. Being able to send audio from the iPhone’s version of Pandora, etc would be even cooler since it would be easier to change stations directly on the phone, but it sounds like that is not possible.

    I like airfoil and use it a lot — keep it up.


  13. Ejp says:

    I’m not quite sure that airfoil for iPhone is really essential. What would seem to me more useful is radioshift. I think we just need to accept that for the time being content from the iPhone will have to be hard wired.


  14. Paul Kafasis says:

    Phil Bridges: Glad to hear it!

    Matt: I think that’s just right – the iPhone is great, but it could be so much more. I’ve been beating that drum for months, but it’s difficult to prove without examples of what can’t be done.

    Mike: It’s an interesting idea, but it’s something that’s almost certain to be shut down by Apple. They have complete, opaque control over the App Store, and trying to skirt the rules just isn’t economically viable when we’d need to invest months of development.

    Dylan: I’m hopeful that we’ll eventually have a Music Picker, just like Contact and Image Picker. It is worth realizing that the iPhone is a very young platform. The trouble is, that would be OK (as it has been for Mac OS X), were it more open. As it stands, however, it’s very limiting.

    Dan: Looks like your second comment got held for moderation. All set there. I’d say your feedback link is your best bet. I have low hopes for success on that though (which is why I didn’t include it in the post itself). That said, the more people saying it, the more likely it is to work.

    Kyle: Well certainly it will work with headphones plugged in – why wouldn’t it? 8)

    As for the benefit, imagine if the two were equal (Airfoil on Mac and on iPhone). The question then would be “Why do I need to talk to my Mac? I just want to control things here on my phone.” Talking to the Mac is a bit of a kludge, it shouldn’t be necessary.

    As well, how about when you’re somewhere else, where there’s a computer (which can run Airfoil Speakers) or an APX?

    That said, an Airfoil Remote is something that can work for some things. We just don’t think it’s really the right solution, and right now, we’re holding out for that and working on other products. We’ll see where we are in the future with it.

    And thanks for the praise – we appreciate it!

    kangham: The patent on…what exactly? Wireless audio transmission? I don’t think so. If there was an IP issue, it would have come up with Airfoil on the Mac and Windows.

    As far as putting it in another capable player, it’s a nice idea, but it fails on many accounts. You’d again need to double load audio, or not be able to use the iPod. Further, Apple’s not allow “competing functionality” – an iPod.app competitor would never fly. We could put Airfoil transmission into Radioshift Touch, perhaps, but that’s a far cry from solving the problem for most people.

    mados123: The problem with this is that we have no expertise on Windows Mobile nor Blackberry, nor any desire to gain it. We’re Mac developers – the iPhone is appealing because writing software for it is, from a developmental perspective, very similar to writing software for the Mac. We’re not interested in other platforms. If this could be done in a day, it might be worth it, but it would require months, if not years, of work. Not really viable.

    James Katt: I’m not really sure what idea you’re defending here. We have hundreds of user requests, likely representing thousands of users who want a product that we can’t currently provide, and we’re explaining why that is. No more, no less.

    Dave: Switching sources via the remote would be relatively easy. But then what? Are you going to leave every player playing? Airfoil would also need to enable you to start audio playback otherwise. Or worse, transmit from Safari, then switch web pages (from pandora.com to last.fm). On the Mac, we let you take care of the source end itself. With an “Airfoil Remote”, this wouldn’t be possible, and the remote would need to do a LOT more.

    ejp: Essential? No. Requested by many, many users? Yes.

    As for Radioshift, give the iTunes store a search for “Radioshift”. You may be surprised by what you find.


  15. K9JRI says:

    Airfoil Speakers for iPhone is EXACTLY the product I am looking for. I stream audio from my MacBook, using AirFoil, to my AppleTV and it will be perfect to be avle to get the same audio on my iPhone. Not that it matters but it is short wave radio SSB audio that I listen to around the house.

    Thanks – Mike


  16. Phl Bridges says:

    Mike, I also stream ham radio – 73 de G6DLJ !


  17. TheReasonableMan says:

    I just want to keep this post going. There is a demand for this product, and blogs and forums are full of chatter about a product that would include the functionality discussed here (i.e., audio directly from iPod Touch/iPhone to Airport Express). Please keep discussing this.

    Here’s another site to voice discontent to Apple about this:

    http://getsatisfaction.com/apple/topics/play_iphone_ipod_touch_music_on_my_airport_express_via_wifi


  18. Ian says:

    Cannot wait for the Airfoil Speakers for the iPhone!

    Same as the previous poster . . . waiting with credit card in hand.


  19. jantypas says:

    What about Airfoil Speakers? I already have Airfoil on the PC and Mac. I’d love to use the speakers portion around the house on Wifi.


  20. Patrick Nellmen says:

    What do you mean, “what about AirFoil Speakers?”? The whole article starts by mentioning they are working on them and then says it again at the end!!

    I’m looking forward to them too, amoeba guys!


  21. DJJ says:

    Using NiceCast and Radioshift Touch, is already possible to stream any audio from a Mac to an iPhone/Ipod Touch.


  22. DJJ says:

    Capture and stream your audio (iTunes, Rhapsody, YouTube, etc) with Nicecast and tune to the stream in your iPhone/iPod Touch (anywhere in the world) with Radioshift Touch. Tested.


  23. Bill says:

    I still think it would be valuable to at least be able to control the airfoil server FROM my iPhone. there’s an iPhone app called iPeng that does this for logitech’s squeezebox and although the UI needs a lot of work, the concept is sound and useful. why can’t we just start there for now? if you had that, you could pretty much do everything the squeezebox system can do for a fraction of the price.


  24. Rocklin Da Jatt says:

    I’ve been waiting for this since I got iphone back in ’07 and have had airport express for almost two years now. I think its greener (environmentally friendly) too, because one doesn’t need to have their computer on all the time and just use iphone instead to play music. So remote app from apple doesn’t cut it, airfoil for iphone app will, and all one needs to have on is their iphone, airport express and a audio system hooked up to the AE.


  25. Fishstick Kitty says:

    I just bought an airport express and I kind of assumed this would be possible…seems like low hanging fruit to me. I suppose you could do a hardware solution, right? I mean you can route audio out of the doc connector…I dunno…apple needs to allow this :-)


  26. Paul Kafasis says:

    DJJ: Nicecast is a workable solution, but it’s far from ideal. As for Radioshift Touch, it can’t currently tune in to an arbitrary URL, just those found in the Guide. That’s likely to change in the future, but it’s not there yet.

    Bill: A remote for Airfoil is a nice idea, but you need much more than that. You need remote control of both Airfoil (“Send audio to X output”, “Lower volume of Y output”) and the source it’s pulling from (“Play next track in iTunes” or worse “Skip this song on Pandora”). There are a good dozen or two likely sources being used with Airfoil, and hundreds more that are less used but still popular.

    While a remote app is a good idea, it’s far from simple.


  27. Eric says:

    Could you create an app that would allow me to stream audio running on my mac TO the iPhone via the wireless using airfoil. Essentially turn the iPhone into high quality Wifi remote headphones. This was if I have Rhapsody or a DVD, etc playing on my mac as I wander the office/the house I can hear using the iPhone.


  28. Mike McCarthy says:

    Regarding Airfoil Speakers for the iPhone, has anyone tried using Simplify Media? I use it to stream/control music from iTunes on my Mac and PC to my iPod Touch. I can also stream my iTunes Library over the internet while I am sitting at Wifi Hotspot. Granted, this solution does not allow you to stream other sources (Pandora, LastFM, Slacker Radio) from your Mac or PC to your iPhone/iPod Touch, but there are apps dedicated to this.

    I would definitely love the ability to transmit audio from my Touch to an Airport Express or Apple TV, so here’s hoping Apple relaxes their restrictions for App developers.


  29. Dan Lynch says:

    hey, i bought an App called WhiteNoise and it plays beach sounds and stuff, but the volume out of the iPhone is tepid at best. I want it to go to my speakers just like my Mac via Airfoil. Too much to ask?


  30. Andre Mullan says:

    Hi,

    I have a home server that uses iTunes to play music through the house through various speakers connected to Airports, and/or other pc’s/Macs running Airfoil Speakers. I then use Airfoil on the home server to direct the music to the desired target(s).

    I also use iPhone Remote to control the music being played. What I would love, and have been quietly hoping for, is an “Airfoil Remote” that works alongside the iPhone’s iTunes Remote, and allows me to control the Airfoil instance on the home server.


  31. Paul Kafasis says:

    Eric: What you’re describing is exactly what we mentioned in the opening paragraph – Airfoil Speakers for iPhone. It’s what we’re working on currently, so stay tuned.

    Dan Lynch: As the article right above your comment indicates, currently, it’s not too much to ask but it is outside the realm of what’s possible with Apple’s restrictions. What you’re describing is Airfoil for iPhone.


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