By Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.
Apple reportedly plans to release new software on September 18 for its popular Apple TV hardware ($99), which lets you listen to music on nice speakers and watch video on a big screen by routing them through your iOS device.
The way it works for music, typically, is that you play songs in a music app, and then tell that app or your entire iPhone to send that sound to your Apple TV via Apple’s proprietary AirPlay protocol.
“The one new feature I’m aware of is a tweak to Apple’s AirPlay system… The new software will allow people who have purchased content from Apple’s iTunes store to play that stuff on other people’s TVs, via its AirPlay system. The key part is that they will be able to tell an Apple TV box they don’t own to stream the media they do own, directly from the cloud [our emphasis]. That’s a change from the current system, which requires users to download stuff to their iPhones and iPads and fling it to the TV from there.”
Our reasoning: If you can stream music directly from the cloud to someone else’s Apple TV, then surely, you can stream it to your own Apple TV. As such, music and video won’t have to stream to your iPhone and then to your Apple TV, which burns up battery life, can make your phone hot, makes the music stop if you walk out of range, and is just downright inefficient from a design perspective.
This will work only with the music and videos you’ve purchased from iTunes including at other people’s houses, AllThingsD reports, and it already works with stuff you’ve uploaded to iCloud using iTunes Match [updated]. It will almost certainly work with the upcoming iTunes Radio too, which is being released on the same day as this Apple TV update. Whatever Apple-stored content this includes, it will bypass the iPhone and go directly over your (or your friend’s) WiFi system, and straight to the Apple TV, saving your iPhone’s battery life, and freeing up its processor for other tasks.
In other words, your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch will now act more like a remote control than a media router, and that makes a lot of sense.
This looks to be a timely move from Apple, considering that Spotify just launched its own AirPlay competitor, Spotify Connect, which works the same way — by sending the music directly to Spotify Connect-enabled speakers, which will come from a variety of manufacturers (none of whom will have to pay Spotify for the privilege, the way they reportedly have to do with Apple).
Another reason: Google’s insanely-popular-already Chromecast also sends music and video from supported apps directly to the television, bypassing phones (non-compatible content streams through the Chrome browser on the phone or other device).
The thing is, this “direct AirPlay” feature, as one might call it, will only work with iTunes purchases, iTunes Match music, and likely iTunes Radio (although we won’t know for sure until Apple releases it).
And of course Spotify Connect will only work with Spotify.
Perhaps now Google will see the value in building an open-source clone of AirPlay that works with hardware from any manufacturer. After all, that’s precisely the strategy it executed with Android, and that seems to be going pretty well.
As for Apple, it could roll out this “direct AirPlay” to third-party iOS app developers — ideally, from the company’s perspective, before everyone switches to Chromecast, Spotify Connect, or something else that goes directly from cloud to speakers.