AirPlay Direct: AirPlay Without the Router

August 28, 2012

The Telegraph with an exciting new iPhone rumor:

Sources familiar with the iPhone-maker’s plans said that Apple wants to improve the AirPlay wireless music streaming technology, which currently requires Airplay speakers and a WiFi network. The new version will require just speakers or a hifi and an iDevice; the iPhone, iPod or iPad would form its own network to allow a direct connection and music playback....

Apple is also expected to combine a change in size for the iPod connector, used widely on docks, with a new push for Airplay streaming....

Apple’s plan to move to a smaller connector has been expected for several months, and will coincide with the push to Airplay. Without the ability to form a network, however, Airplay’s use would be limited, so the new AirPlay Direct standard is an essential part of the device's improved functionality.

Wow. This is actually (probably) coming. I suspect the codename "AirPlay Direct" is just what Apple will call this new feature; to everyone else this'll just be a faster, better AirPlay that works the way it should.

The implications of this are seriously huge. Wifi Direct (the tech that this and AirDrop is based on) is very similar to Bluetooth, but with significantly faster data transfer speeds. Because there's no router connection required for it to work (just like Bluetooth) if your router is in the attic and you're sitting in your basement with 1 bar of Wifi signal, you can still beam music to your subterranean home theater speakers nearly lag-free. Same goes for the home videos on your MacBook Air, or the AirPlay-enhanced game you're playing on your iPad.

Cutting out the crappy 4 to 5-year-old routers that many people use from the AirPlay equation is going to make it a significantly more pleasant experience. This is an enabling technology that will make next-gen AirPlay implementations like a wireless Home Theater setup (wirelessly connected to a future Apple TV) or a seamless Local, Personal iCloud possible.

From what it looks like the next iPhone and future iOS devices will (unfortunately) have a smaller dock connector, and that's going to be a pain point, but if AirPlay Direct is real and Apple actually does start pushing people to use these wireless technologies instead of cables then we're finally one step closer to the Wireless Dream.

Here are a couple of excerpts from my previous thoughts on AirPlay Direct; some thoughts are a bit out of context but this is what AirPlay Direct has the potential to solve:

From Apple: Finish Cutting the Cord, almost a year ago:

The kind of technology that AirDrop uses (a local peer-to-peer network) seems like a more capable AirPlay. Because it doesn’t require a Wifi connection, you could theoretically play music wirelessly in the boonies or sync with your PC/Mac in the middle of the ocean (on a boat, of course). It would be like Bluetooth, but with a faster data transfer rate. Now, I’m not an expert in wireless I/O technologies, but from what I can see, something like AirDrop in iOS devices isn’t too far off.

From Thinking About a Local, Personal iCloud back in January:

I don’t think uploading videos to a service like iCloud or Sugarsync and then downloading them to your other devices is the right solution. It works for photos very nicely, but because videos are so much larger than their single-framed brethren the uploading/downloading process is nowhere near as quick, and cloud storage space is also an issue....

This is something that newer, faster wireless tech is capable of fixing... If your iPhone, iPad, and Mac could “sense” when they’re near each other (or on the same WiFi network), they could establish a direct linkage (an ad-hoc network connection) and transfer those videos from your phone to your other devices without travelling all the way to Apple’s servers first. It would feel just as instantaneous as Photostream, and that’s a good thing. Videos would be archived in iPhoto or in the Videos folder on a PC, and (eventually when Flash storage becomes cheaper), your iPad or other tablets as well....

These pieces are rapidly coming together, and in 2012 I expect to see a lot more of this kind of inter-device communication.

I'm pretty freakin' excited about this, if you couldn't tell.