Since the launch of Apple iOS 10 and the Home app, Apple TV devices have been stealth-like participants in the Apple HomeKit ecosystem as HomeKit hubs, but have never made an appearance in the Apple Home app itself. That all changed with the release this week of iOS 11.4 and tvOS 11.4, where AirPlay 2—Apple’s first foray into wireless multi-room audio—finally made its debut. For the first time, Apple TV 4K and Apple TV 4th-generation boxes and their connected TVs will appear as accessory icons in the Home app, if only for the purpose of playing or pausing AirPlay 2 music services through their speakers. One can only hope Apple has bigger plans for Apple TV and its kinship with HomeKit—maybe we will see a version of the Home app on Apple TV in some future version of tvOS.
AirPlay 2 arrives, an audio elephant in the room
So the bigger news here is the arrival of AirPlay 2, which is designed to polish the credentials of the Apple HomePod voice-activated speaker with multi-room audio and stereo speaker pairs—features the competing Sonos system has had for years. AirPlay 2 is also at its best when mated with the subscription-based Apple Music service, though one can use local iTunes music libraries stored on iOS devices to broadcast wireless multi-room audio.
But for consumers unwilling to invest in a number of $349 HomePods for multi-room music in their dwellings, existing Apple TVs are an easy-to-digest alternative, though the audio quality will be no better than your TV’s built-in speakers or whatever audio receiver and speaker arrangement you may have connected to them.
As for those Apple TVs that appear in the Home app, their single-tap functionality is limited to simply playing or pausing whatever audio or video source is currently playing on them, with no visibility as to what the source is or its volume. A long press will display the usual HomeKit accessory view, sans any controls. Another tap on the Details button enables the ability to rename the device, select a room, add to favorites, and display hardware/software specs. Tip: This is an easy way to check the tvOS version of an Apple TV.
AirPlay 2 integration on Apple TV, however, is as deep and feature-rich as it is on iPhones, iPads, and other iOS devices.
Smooth universal music controls
The AirPlay 2 controls are well designed and can be accessed from any iOS device through the Music app or via the Control Center widget, as well as on Apple TV through the Music app. In any case, the controls are universally the same, with Sonos-like taps to select the desired sources and speakers, plus sliders for volume adjustment. On iOS, multiple source can be playing concurrently and each source gets its own tappable control. And of course, the Apple Siri voice assistant can be used to control audio on the HomePod as well as on other speakers through iOS and tvOS .
More speakers to come
Coming down the road, according to Apple, are many more AirPlay 2-enabled speakers, including those from Bang & Olufsen, Bluesound, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, Denon, Libratone, Marantz, Marshall, Naim, Pioneer, and even Sonos. It will be particularly interesting to see how the Sonos and AirPlay 2 worlds intersect—or not. Ideally, the exceedingly broad selection of Sonos music services would be playable on AirPlay 2.
Apple also announced HomePod availability will expand beyond the current US, UK, and Australia markets, with Canada, France, and Germany slated to see the launch in their countries on June 18.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.