This post shows you how to use Apple’s AirPlay feature to share music, photos, video, and even what’s currently on your screen with another Apple device.
One of the things that sets Apple apart from its competitors is their ability to create a cohesive ecosystem which allows all their products to work together seamlessly. One of my favorite examples of part of this ecosystem in action is a feature Apple introduced in 2010 called AirPlay. It allows you to send all kinds of media (music, photos, video, screen mirroring) wirelessly between your Apple devices. If you take a photo or video on your iPhone, you can easily view it on your flatscreen TV with AirPlay via your Apple TV. If you are playing music on your iMac in your bedroom AirPlay makes it easy to send it throughout your house, perhaps to the sound system in your living room via your Apple TV and also the speakers connected to your Airport Express in your basement. In this post, I’ll overview AirPlay and show you how you can use it to send your media throughout your home. I’ll even overview a few third-party services that I’ve discovered that allow you to use AirPlay in some unique and interesting ways.
1) AirPlay Senders vs. AirPlay Receivers – One of the first things to understand about AirPlay is that there are two different types of AirPlay devices: AirPlay Senders and AirPlay Receivers.
Some examples of AirPlay Senders are iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, and Macs. AirPlay Senders are designed to send media to AirPlay Receivers. This means that, by default, you cannot use AirPlay to send photos from one iPhone to another or from an iPad to a Mac and so on.
Devices that are AirPlay Receivers, on the other hand, are designed to receive and display media from an AirPlay Sender. Some examples of AirPlay Receivers are Apple TVs, Airport Expresses, and various third-party speaker systems and docks. In order to use AirPlay, you’ll need both an AirPlay Sender and an AirPlay Receiver that are both connected to the same wireless network.
2) Streaming vs. Mirroring – AirPlay has two basic functions: Streaming and Mirroring. Streaming is used when you share a photo, listen to music, watch a video you took, or send video from YouTube, Netflix, or other another app from your iOS device to an AirPlay Receiver. Mirroring, on the other hand, lets you share exactly what’s on your AirPlay Sender’s screen, whether its an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or Mac, to an Apple TV. This means that you can essentially use your flatscreen TV as an external monitor with no cables involved.
Now that we understand the basics of how AirPlay works and what it can do, let’s take a look at how to use it on your devices.
How to Use AirPlay…
The first thing you’ll need to do is ensure that your iOS device and your AirPlay Receiver, whether it’s an Apple TV, Airport Express, or something else, are connected to the same Wi-Fi network. On some AirPlay receivers, like the Apple TV for example, you’ll also need to ensure that AirPlay is turned on in Settings.
Next, swipe up from the bottom of your iOS device’s screen to access Control Center. You’ll notice that an AirPlay button has appeared below the music controls and next to the Airdrop button (if your device supports Airdrop).
Unless you’d like to do this, leave the toggle off. Next, hit Done and open an app to begin playing audio or video content (if you’re connected to an Apple TV). If the app supports AirPlay, and many of them do, the content will begin playing on your AirPlay Receiver. You can still control the content from your iOS device and do things like skip tracks or scrub through songs and videos.
From your Mac – AirPlay works great on your Mac as well, though it works a little differently. There are three different ways to use your Mac as an AirPlay Sender.
1) iTunes – Using AirPlay from iTunes is an easy way to send music wirelessly from your Mac to an AirPlay Receiver. First, ensure that your Mac and your AirPlay Receiver are both connected to the same network. Next, open iTunes. Just to the right of the volume slider, you’ll notice a button in the shape of an AirPlay icon. Clicking on this button will reveal a list of the different AirPlay devices available on your network. This list has two different tabs – Single and Multiple.
The Multiple tab allows you to select several devices on your network and send audio to any and all of them. This allows you to truly send audio throughout your house depending on where your AirPlay Receivers are located. The Multiple tab even includes separate volume level sliders for each device so that you can fine tune their volume levels to your liking. You can even use iTunes to AirPlay movies stored on your computer’s hard drive to the display connected to your Apple TV.
2) System Audio – Mac OS X also includes the ability to send your Mac’s system audio through the speakers that are connected to an AirPlay receiver. To do this, hold down the Option key and click the speaker icon in your menu bar. Then, under Output Device select the AirPlay Receiver you’d like to use. This can also be done by opening System Preferences, clicking on Sound, on Output, and then selecting the device you wish to use.
3) AirPlay Display – AirPlay Display is a feature that has been great greatly improved in Mac OS X Mavericks. It works a lot like the Mirroring feature on iOS, except that AirPlay Display allows you to wirelessly use the TV or monitor connected to your Apple TV as a full HD (1080p) external display. This means that you can walk into your living room with your MacBook, sit down on the couch, click a button, and immediately be browsing Safari in HD on the big screen without having to plug anything in. To use AirPlay Display, click on the AirPlay icon in your menu bar and select your Apple TV. Your Mac will behave exactly as though an external display has been plugged in and will begin showing its content through your Apple TV. You can adjust mirroring settings just like normal in the Displays section of System Preferences. To disconnect your Mac from your Apple TV, simply click the AirPlay icon in your menu bar again and click Disconnect AirPlay Display.
Some iOS apps to try with AirPlay:
Videos – Like the Music app, the Videos app utilizes AirPlay brilliantly, and lets you to send any movies you have stored your device to the big screen connected to your Apple TV.
Spotify/Pandora/Google Play Music – One of the great things about AirPlay is that many third-party apps can use the feature as well. It’s super handy to be able to listen to a Spotify or Pandora radio station through your sound system using AirPlay.
Ms. Pac Man – Okay, so maybe this app doesn’t top the list of AirPlay enabled apps. In fact, it doesn’t even have AirPlay functionality built in. But I list it here for a reason: this is a great example of how you can use AirPlay Mirroring to your advantage. By turning on Mirroring to your Apple TV, you can play Ms. Pac Man, and many other games that don’t support AirPlay natively, on your big screen TV. Essentially, this makes the Apple TV a de facto gaming console. And besides, who wouldn’t want to play Ms. Pac Man on a giant TV, right?
Tricks using third-party AirPlay tweaks and apps – Airplay is a great service, but sometimes I find myself wishing it had more features. Apple keeps AirPlay very neatly sandboxed. For example, by default you can only use your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch as an Airplay Sender, not an Airplay Receiver. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could send music wirelessly to your iPhone? Or what if you want to use your Mac or Windows based PC as an Airplay Receiver for audio and video? Let’s look at a few tweaks and apps that will allow you to accomplish each of these things.
AirFloat – AirFloat is one of the most interesting jailbreak apps I’ve seen for iOS. It’s been around for a while and hasn’t received a new coat of iOS 7 inspired design paint yet, but it works very well for turning your jailbroken iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch into an Airplay Receiver. This is great for my situation because I own just one Apple sanctioned Airplay Receiver, an Apple TV, and AirFloat allows me to send music throughout my house without having to purchase another device like an Airport Express. Once you’ve downloaded and installed AirFloat on your jailbroken iOS device, simply launch the app, configure the settings how you’d like, and then connect to your iOS device running AirFloat via Airplay from another device. This works best using iTunes’ Multiple AirPlay tab. Since I own an iPhone 5 and and an iPad 2, my wife owns and iPhone 4s, and we also have our Apple TV, we can use my MacBook Pro to send music through its own speakers and those of 4 other devices throughout our house – more than enough coverage to hear the same song simultaneously in every room. AirFloat is available for free on Cydia, the app store for jailbroken devices. For more information on jailbreaking, please see our series on the subject starting here. To find out how to jailbreak iOS 7, click here.
shairport4w – This oddly named little utility is free and does one thing very well: it turns a Windows based PC into an AirPlay Receiver for audio. Simply download the program, install it, run it, configure a few settings, and your PC will appear in the list of available AirPlay devices. This works great if you’ve got an old PC in the basement and want to stream AirPlay audio through its speakers. You can download shairport4w here. I wasn’t able to find a free solution that does something similar for Mac. If you know of something that works, please share it in the Comments section below!
Reflector – As mentioned before, Apple has decided that their Mac computers are only supposed to officially function as AirPlay Senders. The same is true of Windows based PCs. However, there are several apps that can turn your Mac or PC into a fully-functional AirPlay Receiver, allowing you to stream audio and video from an iOS device to your Mac or even mirror your iOS device’s screen to your Mac’s display. One of the best solutions for doing this is an app called Reflector. In fact, Reflector is the app that we use here at TeachMeiOS.com to make our tutorial videos. Reflector is very versatile and easy to use. Simply open the app and your Mac will show up in the list of available devices. Reflector works with AirPlay much like an Apple TV and provides you with an audio/video streaming mode and a Mirroring mode toggle. The former lets you stream audio through your computer’s speakers and lets you play video full-screen. The latter allows you to actually show your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch’s display on your computer in real time. Reflector is a very well designed and functional app and well worth its price of $12.99. Buying an Apple TV would cost $99 so if you already own a Mac or PC and want to use AirPlay, Reflector could save you a lot of money! Check out Reflector’s website here.
Conclusion – AirPlay truly is one of iOS’ best features, and really the whole Apple ecosystem. It makes it incredibly easy to share media between devices, no cables necessary. Take some time to think about how integrating AirPlay into your home or workplace could benefit you and try out a few of these ideas! For me, using AirPlay in my house has been not only very useful, but a lot of fun. I hope that it will be both for you as well.