AirPlay, Apple's proprietary wireless streaming protocol, has received a major update in the form of AirPlay 2.

For years, Apple has offered AirPlay so that you could instantly share audio or video between your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, an Apple TV, or another AirPlay-enabled device. Apple's new HomePod speaker also uses the protocol, but with AirPlay 2, which has just arrived, multi-room audio is now possible. Here's what you need to know about the original protocol and how AirPlay 2 improves it.

Apple AirPlay 2 vs AirPlay: What's new?

  • Airplay doesn't offer multi-room audio; AirPlay 2 does
  • AirPlay lets you stream from any Apple device to your speakers or TV
  • AirPlay 2 lets you play from speakers over Wi-Fi, and it'll stay in sync
  • AirPlay 2 lets play different songs in different rooms with multiple HomePods

AirPlay, which debuted in 2010 as an evolution of AirTunes, is a protocol developed by Apple that allows wireless streaming between Apple devices over Wi-Fi. Apple has also since licensed the AirPlay to manufacturers for them to use in their products in order to be compatible with Apple's devices. In 2017, Apple announced AirPlay 2, an update to the protocol, and it uniquely brings support for multi-room audio.

Compared to Bluetooth audio streaming, AirPlay is supposed to sound better due to wider bandwidth that Wi-Fi provides. As for the AirPlay 2 update, it adds the ability to stream music to multiple audio devices simultaneously. You could use it to cue a song on your iPhone and play it in multiple rooms around the house at the same time, or choose which AirPlay speaker to stream to in your house.

AirPlay 2 was announced before the HomePod, but AirPlay 2 unlocks many features in the speaker, including multi-room and stereo pairing (the ability to use separate HomePods as left and right speakers). It will also let you ask Siri to play music in a specific room or throughout the house. AirPlay 2 is even "built throughout iOS", so you can play music to select speakers right from Apple Music or the Home app.

Plus, any third-party apps using the AirPlay 2 audio toolkit will let you do the same thing. Another cool AirPlay 2 feature will let you create shared "up next" playlist, or multi-user playlists, within Apple Music. So, with AirPlay 2 and Apple Music, your friends can add their own music to the mix, Apple said. You even take an incoming call or play a game on your device without interrupting the music.

Apple AirPlay 2 vs AirPlay: How do you control it?

  • AirPlay 2 can be access from the Control Center, Home app, or in-app controls
  • AirPlay 2 is also baked into Apple TV and MacOS 10.13

AirPlay had its limitations. But, with AirPlay 2, you can finally pick a song and control the volume of your AirPlay 2‑enabled speaker from Control Center, Music app, Home app, the Lock screen, or in‑app controls on your Apple devices. You can also ask Siri to play songs; just say the song and say the room. You're not restricted to using Siri with the HomePod either, as she plays with other third-party speakers.

You see, provided you have the latest Apple TV, you can use it to send audio to speakers around your home, rather than just coming from your iPhone or iPad. Any supported speakers that are connected to the Apple TV, be it a soundbar or speaker system, will become AirPlay 2 speakers. You'll even be able to send audio from your iPhone or Mac to your Apple TV and your other speakers simultaneously.

But the main thing to remember is that AirPlay 2 adds speaker controls to Apple's Music app and Home app, so you can individually control all of your AirPlay speakers from your iPhone for the first time. You can also ask Siri to play songs on different speakers, thought Apple Music subscribers can only take advantage of this function. Even better, AirPlay 2 can even be used with other HomeKit devices to create scenes. 

Apple hasn't confirmed if any other services will eventually support AirPlay 2. It, of course, has only ever demoed the Apple Music service. But, when you play music from your iOS device, you will be able to select which speakers and control individual volumes of those speakers. These controls can be found in Control Center by swiping up from the bottom of your iPhone's screen. Neat, right?

Apple AirPlay 2 vs AirPlay: Which Apple devices support it?

  • AirPlay works on all older iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple TVs
  • AirPlay 2 is compatible with recent iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers
  • AirPlay also works with Apple iPod Touch 2015 and the new HomePod

AirPlay works on all older iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple TVs, while AirPlay 2 is compatible with the most recent iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. But it's being touted for the latest Apple TV and the Apple HomePod. Long story short, any device that can run Apple iOS 11 is also likely to be compatible with AirPlay 2. These include iPhone 5S and newer, iPad (2017), any iPad Air, any iPad Pro, and iPad Mini 2.

It also works with Apple iPod Touch 2015 (sixth generation) and the new HomePod. Now, Apple has yet to announce which version of iTunes will be needed, but it's likely that both Macs and PCs will be able to act as a controller for AirPlay 2.

Apple AirPlay 2 vs AirPlay: Which third-party devices offer it?

  • AirPlay is supported on several older speakers and soundbars
  • AirPlay 2 is supported on many brands at launch, too
  • The Sonos Play:5, Playbase, and Sonos One will support AirPlay 2

AirPlay was supported on several older speakers and soundbars from third-party manufacturers. AirPlay 2 is more restricted at launch. Here's the full list of brands offering early support: Sonos, Denon and Marantz, Bose, Bang and Olufsen, Beats, Naim, Devialet, Dynaudio, Polk, McIntosh, Bowers & Wilkins, Libratone, Definitive Technology, and Bluesound. But that doesn't mean these brands offer full support.

For instance, newer Sonos speakers, including the Play:5, Playbase, and Sonos One, will support AirPlay 2, as will future Sonos products. However, older Sonos players - like Play:3 and Play:1 - won't support it. Sonos has also yet to detail how its AirPlay 2 integration will work, but either way, expect to see compatible Sonos products appear in Apple Home as well as in AirPlay menus as available speakers.

Also, some manufacturers, like Naim and Libratone, have confirmed that you'll be able to simply run a software update on the speaker to benefit from the new AirPlay 2 features, but others will need you to buy a completely new speaker.

Apple AirPlay 2 vs AirPlay: Which is better?

AirPlay 2 is now available via iOS 11.4. Following the update, AirPlay 2 opens up a whole world of multi-room streaming capabilities that were previously not available on the iPhone or iPad, such as controlling multiple speakers, which, up until now you were only able to do on the MacBook. It's not just iPhone owners that benefit though, as AirPlay 2 also brings with it multi-room playback for the HomePod.