A new rumor popped up this week, suggesting an easier to configure version of Apple’s Airplay technology for streaming audio and video over WiFi. In following reviews of Airplay-enable speaker systems, I’ve noticed that a number of the get dinged for being difficult to configure—generally the speaker system creates an ad-hoc network, which one of your devices must join in order to configure the speakers, including selecting the network you ultimately want the speakers to be on and entering a password. All of which is to say: it’s a pain in the ass to figure out a good way to get speakers to join an existing network. And sometimes, in the case of corporate networks, it may not even be permissible or possible to get the device to join the network.
So, easier setup for Airplay would be a good thing. Some reports on the rumor seem to suggest the use of an ad-hoc network created by the client device. But I think to get an idea of how this will work, you just need to look at Apple’s AirDrop technology for computer-to-computer file transfers. AirDrop relies on an underutilized WiFi technology called WiFi Direct. You can think of WiFi direct as a much better implementation of ad-hoc networks. You don’t have to manually create, find, or join an ad-hoc network; the two devices see each other, create a direct WiFi link, and go about their business.
In the case of FileDrop, opening a Finder window and selecting FileDrop shows any Macs in your vicinity that support the technology and allow FileDrop transfers. If you send a file to one of these Macs, and the user on the other end accepts the transfer, the two Macs negotiate their own WiFi link, without disturbing their existing WiFi network connections. I see no reason a direct connection to a WiFi-enabled speaker couldn’t work the same way.
Even the initial rumor seems to hint at the use of WiFi Direct without knowing it: the original Telegraph article reporting the rumor refers to the technology’s working name as “Airplay Direct”.
Notably, this may also play into Apple’s plans to change its dock connector: a better-implemented AirPlay could mean that the dock connector doesn’t even need to transmit an audio signal anymore. The dock connector could be relegated to just power and data… or heck, maybe even just power.
Update: I suspected this was so obvious that I wasn’t the first to make the connection, and, indeed, iMore has postulated the same thing. iMore seems to have been doing some great work lately—time to start reading them regularly, I think. And while I’m at it, you might as well check out some other interesting speculation concerning Apple and the potential of WiFi Direct.