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.


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!

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