White HomePod sitting on a television standSource: iMore

Spotlight on Bluetooth

When it comes to wireless speakers, you've probably heard of Bluetooth. If you're a heavy Apple device user, AirPlay probably also comes to mind. What's the difference between the two? In some respects, a lot. In others, not so much! It's time to find out!

Bluetooth versus AirPlay 2

Bluetooth serves as a universal wireless platform for devices such as speakers and headphones. It also supports mobile phones and tablets, laptops, cameras, printers, and much more. AirPlay 2, by contrast, is Apple's proprietary wireless platform that's dependent on Wi-Fi. It's purpose is to stream digital audio or video content to other AirPlay-supported devices. Generally speaking, most AirPlay devices also support Bluetooth. However, that's not the case the other way around.

As I noted previously, two important differences between Bluetooth and AirPlay stand out. First, notice that AirPlay supports audio and video. Second, AirPlay requires Wi-Fi. In other words, with AirPlay, you can stream video, such as content from YouTube, from one AirPlay-supported device to another. However, to do so, there must be an active Wi-Fi connection which AirPlay uses to piggyback. By contrast, Bluetooth devices connect directly, or point to point.

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Bluetooth AirPlay
Max number of active connections 7 None
Range Typically less than 10 m (33 ft) As far as Wi-Fi connection
Audio supported SBC, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, MP3, AAC, ATRAC, AptX AAC, MP3, ALAC (Apple Lossless)
Video No Yes
Requires Wi-Fi No Yes

Bluetooth Pro and Cons

Pros

  • Widely supported, works across multiple devices and operating systems
  • Supports AAC and aptX

Cons

  • Limited range
  • Streams in lossy compression (except for aptX)

Because Bluetooth has been around longer, it supports more audio formats than AirPlay. Video streaming? Sorry, no.

AirPlay 2 Pro and Cons

Pros

  • All about the Wi-Fi range
  • Uses lossless compression
  • Multi-room audio support

Cons

  • Devices must be networked
  • Only for Apple devices and AirPlay-certfied devices.
  • Often more expensive due to licensing requirements

Better volume control is often cited as another perk for using AirPlay. You can control the volume of the AirPlay device, not just a volume on the iOS or iPadOS device. With Bluetooth, you can only control the volume of the original device, not the connected device. Additionally, AirPlay 2 allows you to play different audio to different devices — at the same time. For example, you can play your favorite music in one room and stream a podcast to another.

What about AirPlay versus AirPlay 2?

First introduced in 2017, AirPlay 2 improved buffering and added the streaming of audio to multiple speakers at once. More important, it added the ability to stream different content to multiple devices. AirPlay 2 is backward compatible.

Bottom line

A Bluetooth vs. AirPlay 2 comparison isn't necessarily cut and dry. If you consider yourself (and your household) Apple-centric, it's probably best for you to purchase AirPlay-compatible devices moving forward. In doing so, you'll find it much easier to control all of your devices. If your mobile devices (phones, tablets) aren't from Apple, there's no benefit in buying an AirPlay supported device. And if it doesn't also support Bluetooth (highly unlikely), you couldn't even use it.

Spotlight on Bluetooth

All 20 stories from our 2019 Spotlight on Bluetooth package, all in one place. Whether it's a spot of Bluetooth history, a bit of humor or wireless memery, or some thoughtful analysis on the future of the short-range tech, you'll find it right here, courtesy of the folks at iMore, Android Central, and Windows Central.

General Bluetooth

Apple and iOS

Windows

Android

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