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Apple 'AirPlay Direct' To Shed Wi-Fi Requirement

At September iPhone 5 event, Apple expected to announce way for iOS and OS X devices to transmit audio to wireless speakers without a Wi-Fi network..

Thomas Claburn

August 29, 2012

3 Min Read

Apple iPhone 5 Vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: What We Know

Apple iPhone 5 Vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: What We Know

Apple iPhone 5 Vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: What We Know (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Apple is said to be preparing an update of its AirPlay streaming media protocol to allow its devices to send audio to speakers without a Wi-Fi network.

Citing unnamed sources, The Telegraph on Tuesday reported that Apple is expected to announce the update to its AirPlay technology at its September 12 media event, believed to be the debut of the next iPhone model--iPhone 5, the new iPhone, or whatever Apple ends up calling it.

Likewise, the name for the updated technology hasn't been disclosed. It could be "AirPlay Direct," or something else, just as "iPad Mini" won't necessarily be the name of the 7-inch iPad that Apple is also expected to release within the next few months. Apple's naming conventions became less predictable when the company decided to call its third-generation iPad simply "the new iPad," a designation that's destined to confuse when the fourth generation iPad arrives.

[ And what is rival Google up to? Read Google+ Gets Down To Business. ]

In any event, the update to AirPlay should allow iOS and OS X device users to play songs through nearby AirPlay-certified speakers without a physical connection and without a separate Wi-Fi connection. The likely mechanism would be something called Wi-Fi Direct, which allows a point-to-point wireless connection without a wireless access point. The rumored change coincides with reports that Apple is planning to alter the form of its dock connector, effectively obsoleting present third-party hardware that accommodates the soon-to-be discontinued dock connector and spurring a new round of hardware sales.

Android users can already stream songs to compatible Bluetooth-enabled audio devices, and iOS users used to be able do something similar (without an intermediary as is presently required), through an app called Airfoil Speakers Touch 3. The iOS app could receive AirPlay audio from another iOS device or iTunes and play it.

However, in June, Apple removed the app from its App Store, citing developer rules violations, and the developer, Rogue Amoeba Software, removed the ability to receive audio from iOS or iTunes sources in order to continue selling the app. The rule, as CEO Paul Kafasis explained in a blog post at the time, turned out to be because Apple didn't want Rogue Amoeba to provide that functionality. "Specifically, [Apple] cited a provision in the App Store Review Guidelines which allows them to reject apps 'for any content or behavior [they] believe is over the line,'" he wrote.

The app retains the ability to receive audio from a Mac or PC, through one of the company's apps for OS X or Windows called Airfoil.

Kafasis offered his interpretation of Apple's motivation for removing this functionality. "We do know that Airfoil Speakers Touch's ability to receive audio directly from iTunes and iOS enabled some users to forgo purchasing expensive AirPlay hardware, hardware which Apple licenses," he wrote. "It seems Apple has chosen to use their gatekeeper powers to simply prevent competition."

At the same time, if Apple does update AirPlay, it will make its proprietary technology more competitive with alternative protocols like Bluetooth, KleerNet, or DNLA, a broader media networking protocol that is support by just about every large tech company other than Apple. Apple clearly wants to compete, just on its own terms.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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