Some tech experts tout AirPlay as a revolutionary technology that will change the face of home entertainment and network data sharing. AirPlay has the following advantages that give credence to that idea:
- There continues to be an increasing number of Apple iOS apps (for iPad, iPhone and the iPod touch) that support streaming output using AirPlay.
- When used with Apple TV, your Apple mobile device becomes a hand-held remote control for sharing music, movies and photos on your TV.
- Even while streaming content from it, you can keep using your Apple mobile device for other things like checking e-mail, updating your Facebook status or playing "Angry Birds."
- Audio streams carry track information, including artist and song title, which the receiver can show on its own graphical display.
- When you've enabled AirPlay on each of your devices, the system works without any complicated configuring.
- If the source you're playing from is streaming HD video, AirPlay can carry that HD quality to your Apple TV (version 2 or later).
Despite these great features, AirPlay also has its limitations. Most of the criticism around AirPlay cites the following disadvantages:
- Multiple receivers streaming from the same application all play the same content. They cannot branch off to access separate content from that same source.
- Only one app can use AirPlay at a time.
- Video sharing is only available to an Apple TV device.
- An Apple TV must have an Internet connection in order to play copy-protected video content.
- WiFi network connections outperform Bluetooth connections, though the WiFi stream does tend to drop out occasionally while it's playing.
- Despite the efforts of other manufacturers to produce AirPlay-enabled devices, it's still primarily an Apple-only feature.
In addition to these limitations, streaming to something other than a computer requires purchasing an Apple TV or AirPort Express, each available for $99 as of this writing, or experimenting with third-party AirPlay-enabled devices. This could be a hidden agenda to sell more Apple TV devices, or it could just be a revenue stream for Apple as they charge manufacturers a $4 licensing fee per AirPlay-enabled device they sell [source: Elmer-DeWitt].
So far, we've looked at Apple AirPlay with a focus on its use by other Apple products. Now, let's look who's partnering to offer AirPlay compatibility outside of Apple, and how AirPlay compares to other media-sharing technology.