iOS 4.2 features: The triumph and tragedy of AirPlay [video]

One of the flagship features of iOS 4.2 for iPad and iPhone was and arguably still is AirPlay -- the ability to wirelessly beam video to an Apple TV or audio to an Airport Extreme with speakers or other AirPlay-compatible (formerly called AirTunes-compatible) audio gear. And it works great. It really does. Magically even. Like Star Trek. Provided you only want to beam video from the iPod app (Video on iPad and iPod touch) and YouTube app. With any of those apps, you get the AirPlay video option, tap it, and your Apple TV throws the content right up on your big screen. You can even exit the player app and, thanks to iOS 4.x multitasking, the video keeps playing via Apple TV while you surf the web, check email, etc.

Sure, you already have a YouTube app on Apple TV, but if you've found a great video on your iPad, this saves you the time and effort of searching for it again on your Apple TV. You just tap AirPlay and you're sharing. Theoretically everyone in the family could have a video on their iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad and take turns sharing them without having to stop and search for them one after the other on the Apple TV. It's the convenience factor.

But here's the rub -- any other app, even Apple apps like the iTunes Store's streaming video podcasts and YouTube videos played in Safari don't have a video option -- they're audio-only. Same goes for apps like Air Video and even Netflix, which is already built into the Apple TV anyway, just like YouTube.

Same goes with the Photos app. You can show your pictures, no problem, but there's no way to show a video shot with your iPhone and stored in the Camera Roll. There's no AirPlay button available for that and if you try to work around it with the AirPlay widget in the fast app switcher UI, you get audio-only at best and nothing at worst. You actually have to sync home movies off your iPhone, and then sync them back in order for them to work. That's frustrating to say the least. The ability to quickly shoot and wirelessly show off home movies via AirPlay is the killer apps for parents.

Maybe Hollywood is to blame. Apple is uber-careful about not offending the incredibly offensive folks who make the movies and generally treat their own customers as content criminals. That might explain things like locking out the Air Video ap, which can load MKV and AVI files (torrent favorites), but why not iTunes? Why not home movies in the Photos app?

It makes the kind of sense that doesn't, and it turns what should be a terrific new feature in iOS 4.2 into a bit of a tragedy in this first incarnation.

Update: John Gruber thinks Apple might have run out of time, wanting to ship iOS 4.2 in November and not able to finish system-wide AirPlay support. Perhaps, like network AirPrint, the full implementation was scaled back for the release version. If that's the case, hopefully there'll be an iOS 4.3 early next year...

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iOS 4.2 features: The triumph and tragedy of AirPlay [video]


YouTube now plays in the background once you are listening to a song. Just double click the home button and push play.!!! So cool I hope this isn't a flaw. It works both on iPhone and iPad.

Wouldn't implementation of airplay with apps like air video be up to the app developers to add? Doesn't seem like apple should be responsible for adding features to someone elses app...?

Wouldn't implementation of airplay with apps like air video be up to the app developers to add? Doesn't seem like apple should be responsible for adding features to someone elses app...?

I want to buy an Apple TV...I really do...but with no official 1080p HD support, no Hulu, and crippled AirPlay, I just can't justify it. After all, there's really nothing Apple TV can do that I can't just do by hooking up my laptop via HDMI to my TV...ughhh

My only comment is things should seemingly get better over time. Its still a new concept so Apple will improve it.

The way Apple does things....they always leave something out and create another update so they can patch and screw up the jailbreak and unlock.
That's how they work.

I'm not seeing the airplay icon on my iPhone at ALL. I don't have an Apple TV (yet) but I thought the icon would be there and tapping it would only show iPhone as a playing option.

Same thing with air print. Only a handful of printers it will work with. Other printers will be supported in the future, but the big if, when? I am still trying to be impressed with the 4.2 features, but so far it looks like a big win for iPad, and a bug fix for the rest, but it looks like it created more bugs, than it fixed. More testing should have need done on this one. Darn cable companies happy over this mess.

You need a apple tv to airplay people, if you don't have one you can't airplay if you don't have a printer you can't AirPrint .to see the videos that you took from your iPhone there is a way and is thru iTunes here is how I'm able to do it, I took my videos and select them all from my picture album on my computer . Went to iTunes and created an playlist called videos and put all the videos on that playlist and airplay. On my iPad they are on my movies on my iPhone I play using the iPod video.

And for podcast you need to download them to your device in order to airplay them they work fine. I hope the info helps?

I am having trouble with slideshows through airplay on my apple tv. I can get just the music to play, or just the pictures, and SOMETIMES both. I don't get it.

It just works? Perhaps not. Not very Apple of them to include something this half baked. But then again, most people don't have apple tv's or would even use it.

Yip. That was g@y. I bought a new apple tv for nothing. I could have just kept using my old one. Damn. Thought it would steam all videos, as in the ones I find with safari. Totally misleading.

If a feature ever needed to get in the Jailbreak community hands, it's Airplay. I'm sure they'll find a way to let any app that uses the default media player to stream audio and video. But, I'm very disappointed with the current implementation.
Maybe Apple is being cautious. Even so, they should have known this was a much sought after feature. This could have been Apple's chance to outshine the competition. As it stands however, AppleTV is turning out to be a hobby, not he full featured appliance they could have made it if AirPlay was fully functioning.
Guess we'll have to wait and see how this turns out. Either Apple will fix this mess or the Jailbreak community will give us what we need as always.

There is a work around for watching videos from your camera roll to your apple tv without connecting to a computer and going through iTunes. If you are a mobile me subscriber, you can send your videos to MobileMe wirelessly (it takes about 2 minutes) and then watch them from the mobile me option on your apple tv. Though it's not ideal, it's much better than dealing with iTunes and syncing your iOS device.

If I could stream Netflix from it it might be worth me getting AppleTV
Hopefully they will add in these features soon. Why doesn't apple just release updates more often with a new feature here and there.

Why streaming Netflix from the iPad when Netflix is on the apple tv for me is battery waste. I think apple block these feature is because apps like games I can stream the audio on games but not video. I'm happy with my iPad

If Netflix is already native on appleTV then why would you ever want too stream it from your iPhone and kill battery?

Exactly. Especially since Netflix saves where you pause a video and resumes where you left off no matter which device you want to use.

Whaaa??? I read somewhere that the great thing about AirPlay was because third-party apps, such as Air Video Server, would be able to stream to the 2nd gen Apple TV. Arghhh...:(
Air Video is an awesome app and works so incredibly well because if you are the proud owner of a strong-enough system (think Dual-core 2.0GHz and up), it actually does the transcoding "on-the-fly", meaning that there is no wait for things like transcoding a movie for 2 hours before you can start to watch anything.
Alright, what is the consensus on as to whether we will see a "patch" or a "hack" for Air Video (or a comparable app) on jailbroken devices?

4.2 is very disappointing, with AirPlay and AirPrint being the biggest failures. So, now Apple is in the mode of introducing crippled features, that we hope will get better in time? What happened to the "we won't release it until we can do it right" approach (e.g. copy and paste)? Apple is really starting to feel the heat of competition, and these rushed, half-baked features will hurt their reputation.

Quick follow-up: I was under the impression that Apple was the entity that told Hollywood and the music industry what they were going to do as far as implementing technologies, such as how it would implement how and when what can be streamed and where to?
Apple afraid to step on toes in Hollywood just doesn't quite sound believable. Either way, I still think we'll see a patch/hack for pesky little problems like that from good ol' Cydia. :D

why everyone is crying over airplay it does what Steve said it will stream Photos, Movies on your devices. he never said it will stream video from safari or any movie app. I think is good enough for what we need it 4

Can't stream video to the old Apple TV either. In fact, you can't stream ANYTHING to it. I can stream to it from iTunes on my desktop and can use the Remote app (which just controls iTunes) but that's it. My original Apple TV isn't even showing up as an AirPlay destination.
The only reason I still have the thing is to play stuff via XBMC and to play internet radio stations. Hmm.. the Boxee Box is looking more attractive now.
I think the movie studios are probably the ones to blame. We lal know how they hate allowing devices to stream... :/

@webvex Apple never made a big deal about AirPlay like they did with cut, copy & paste. Apple is often doing stuff on experimental basis. This is one of them. However users seam to really like the feature. And it seams to have become so huge in the eyes of the public that it's raising expectations to a level Apple wasn't prepared for. Their reputation won't suffer. Apple also has a tradition about perfecting things over time.

I think it's a half-arsed implementation, and that's becoming a worrisome trend lately. They definitely didn't deliver what they promised with AirPrint. Both AirPlay and AirPrint are basically crippled, not just needing a little polish or tweaking. Of course, we all hope they'll deliver the full features eventually.

Apple it just works (some content maybe excluded due to paralyses, laziness or downright failure to launch, consult your physician if airplay bugs cause you to have dreams of the slogan coming true, phone or pad air fail and ending up in the destruction of your device with an all glass back ending up in your eye)

Maybe if Apple had stuck to standards -- DLNA/UPNP -- that have been out for some time and actually work, rather than trying to force yet another closed system down people's throats, Airplay might be worth bothering with.
And, seriously, you're going to try and blame Hollywood for this debacle? Wow, words fail me.

you can use iprint with networked printers you just have to set up the service on the printer's google for "setting up airprint on windows"