City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Apple’s Airport Express and Airtunes

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A week before the iTunes Music Store is rumoured to be launching in Europe, Apple launch an equally significant little device – Airport Express, with Airtunes. It’s basically a device for creating portable wireless networks via plugging into power sockets, acting as a ‘wireless bridge’ to extend your wireless network – and super-smartly, enabling speakers to be plugged into it direct, via the aforementioned Airtunes.

This subtly revolutionises the Apple offering, properly beginning to weave your Mac’s information spaces into the other devices around the home. This places your Powerbook at the epicentre an audio network tying together the numerous speakers around the average home – first time this has really been done easily, and a massive step forward. I know from work at the BBC that there are on average 6 or 7 radios per household in the UK  – there will be a fair number of speakers kicking around too. You could now (with a bit of investment) play your digital music collection through any of them. As this nicely explanatory Macweek article notes, "this is a first step for Apple in getting iTunes music into another part of your life — in this case, into places where there are no computers or iPods."

Apple explain thusly:

"You’ve put together an extensive digital music collection in iTunes, arranged it into clever playlists to suit your every mood. Now you want to enjoy it in your living room on your home stereo, not just in the den, where your computer sits. Enter AirPort Express with AirTunes. AirPort Express works with iTunes to make listening to your iTunes music library through your home stereo or powered speakers not only a possibility but a snap. Whether your stereo or powered speakers are located in your living room, bedroom or basement, just plug it or them into the audio port on the AirPort Express Base Station using an audio cable. iTunes automatically detects the connection. When you open iTunes on your AirPort-equipped Mac or Wi-Fi-compliant PC, you’ll see a popup list at the bottom right of the iTunes window showing your remote speakers. Select it, click play …"

This is v smart indeed – and getting exactly at the heart of what I was alluding to in a previous post about extending wireless to the ‘wireless’ – about how difficult that last 50cm into the hifi seemed to be. Apple have just made the connected home (from an audio point-of-view) a whole lot easier.

Now the requirement for that little iProjector I dreamt up last time is perhaps even more timely (though it has to be wifi powered now 😉

Also, Apple surely need to bring out a remote control for all this sooner or later? I know there’s a remote for the iPod kicking around, but by usefully putting the Powerbook at arm’s length, the controls are too (a little less usefully, although Party Shuffle could avoid any surprises). In fact, perhaps a little wi-fi connected device which had a nice big play/pause button, a prev/next button, and with a little LCD screen (with mini projector!) too. The iPod controls without the hard disk but with wireless/bluetooth? Don’t think you can rest on your laurels, Apple …

Apple: Airport Express
Apple: Airtunes
[via a very excited Tom Coates – cheers!]


10 responses to “Apple’s Airport Express and Airtunes”

  1. tom Avatar

    Or, quite possibly, a Wi-fi enabled iPod (or bolt-on, though that would be a very kludgy, un-Apple solution) that allows you to share the contents of that iPod to Airport Express… and, indeed, use it as a remote control? I can but hope…


  2. Adrian Avatar

    Surely you just need the neat little app for your P800 that controls your Mac over bluetooth, including showing your iTunes artwork and letting you pick and choose new tracks. And it stops further remote control proliferation! 🙂


  3. Nico Macdonald Avatar

    All very impressive and hard to get one’s head around. When I first read about Airport Express I thought it was also doing IP over the domestic power network — something Farallon has offered in one form or another for some time (and still needed).
    I believe there is a flaw in Apple’s concept, which is that it assumes the PC will be the centre of the music network (an approach taken by Microsoft with its Windows XP Media Center). PCs, even from Apple, are generally not things people want in a domestic setting, and they certainly don’t want them on all the time. Plus, a PC is a muti-functional device, and not optimised for use as a hi-fi.
    Better, as Tom Coates suggests, to use the PC-synched iPod as the source and interface to the music, adding the speaker selector to the iPod menus. If SanDisk can put WiFi on an SD card and run it from Palm, then Apple could fit in and power WiFi from an iPod. An external WiFi solution need not be a kludge. The Griffin iTrip is very elegant, particularly the solution for the iPod Mini. (I have tried it as a home hi-fi solution. Using the iPod as a remote control interface is great, but the FM sound quality is poor, the connection is frequently lost, and when the music stops playing you get a rush of static.)
    BTW, the remote control Adrian McEwen wants already exists. Salling Clicker works with Symbian-based smartphones from Nokia, Siemens, and Sony Ericsson to control MacOS X apps, including iTunes. Doesn’t show cover artwork however.


  4. Aaron Avatar

    Better, as Tom Coates suggests, to use the PC-synched iPod as the source and interface to the music, adding the speaker selector to the iPod menus.
    Don’t you think it’d be better yet to have a third device – basically an iTunes hifi separate. Connects via wi-fi to the iTunes library on the PC when the PC is switched on, and updates the library – and takes a copy of every file in the database, storing it on an internal hard-drive. Has a display and a wireless remote control. Also provides yet another useful back-up – something which is becoming more and more important for average home users.
    Either way – I think it’s clear that airport express is an interim product.


  5. ben Avatar

    Romeo is a free version of sailing clicker that i use. Works great. Mostly useless mind you, but skipping tracks on iTunes from your phone is handy, dito for pausing dvds:


  6. Nico Macdonald Avatar

    Walter Mossberg notes the error of retaining the computer as the locus for music control in his Personal Technology column: “the biggest problem with AirPort Express is more fundamental. Unlike most of its competitors, Apple’s product lacks any remote control or remote user interface”.


  7. Nico Macdonald Avatar

    David Pogue his New York Times Circuits column Apple’s Pocket-Size Base Station (July 22, 2004) [free sub required] also notes that “it’s a weird and heady experience to use, say, your computer upstairs as the control center for the stereo across the room, complete with playlists and real-time volume control. On the other hand, if you’re downstairs with the stereo, you can’t pause playback when the phone rings, see the name of the current song, or skip a truly awful song, without having to run upstairs to the computer”.


  8. Nico Macdonald Avatar

    Well, the general thread of this discussion may have been going in the same direction as Apple, See ‘Apple iPod team seeks Wi-Fi engineer’ (The Register, 25th August 2004). The story even mentions Salling Clicker and also talks about Apple creating software for iSync-compatible phones and PDAs to facilitate iTunes control. [How does one document and reflect on such developments over time?]


  9. Dan Avatar

    Trackbacks on this post, received at the time (before I turned trackbacks off due to spam):

    » 2004/06/08 22:32 from 2lmc spool
    AirPort Express and AirTunes [Read More]


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