At WWDC 2017, Apple announced a range of new features including a major update to its wireless audio protocol in the form of Airplay 2. However, the rollout has been further delayed.
Coming later in 2018
Airplay 2 is much more than a multiroom audio system. It is a wireless audio platform that integrates with Apple’s HomeKit (for connected home devices) and is capable of handling wireless music and TV audio.
Airplay 2 was expected to be introduced alongside Apple’s new home speaker, HomePod. That will not happen. The company says that Airplay 2 will instead be introduced later via a later software update.
This means that, at launch, Airplay 2 compatible speakers will not support multiroom capabilities. It will not be possible to pair two HomePod units in stereo either. Partners such as Bang & Olufsen and Sonos will also have to hold back their update to make their speakers compatible with Apple’s wireless audio platform.
The company has not added much detail to Airplay 2 since the presentation last summer at WWDC 2017. However, there are some signs of it emerging throughout Apple’s devices. With iOS and tvOS 11.2.5 you can now control video playback on Apple TV via the ‘Now Playing’ section on iPhone and iPad. This kind of video/audio playback control is part of Airplay 2.
Apple has not specified exactly how Airplay 2 and HomePod links to Apple TV either. Today, it is possible to wirelessly transmit TV audio to Airplay 1 compatible speakers but the functionality is limited in several ways. Some competitors allow you to set up surround sound this way.
Apple had a headstart in the space for several years but we have had to wait a long time for the updated protocol to arrive. The system was originally called AirTunes when it launched in 2004 but later changed name as video streaming and mirroring functionality was added. In 2013, Google launched its competing Chromecast/Google Cast system.
So, we will have to wait a little longer. Apple says that Airplay 2 is “coming later this year”.