What is AirPlay: Explaining Apple’s wireless streaming and mirroring technology

What is AirPlay: Explaining Apple’s wireless streaming and mirroring technology

AirPlay is one of the easiest ways available to users to stream or mirror content from their Apple devices to a compatible TV, speaker, or Apple TV. This article will explain everything AirPlay can do and how you can use it.

What is AirPlay?

AirPlay streaming

AirPlay is an Apple technology that allows screen mirroring and streaming among devices. Like Chromecast, it works with video and audio content, both available locally on the device and online. And you can stream pretty much everything from photos, videos, presentations, music, and podcasts from iPhone, Mac, iPod touch, or iPad.

As AirPlay is deeply baked into Apple devices and any other device marked as “Work with Apple AirPlay,” the experience is completely seamless, and you don’t need any extra software to make it work.

While the original AirPlay was a one-to-one protocol, allowing streaming from your phone to a speaker or an iPad to a TV, AirPlay 2, introduced in 2018, expanded its capabilities. And now, you can use your Apple device to stream audio to multiple speakers simultaneously. But, unfortunately, you can’t stream a video to multiple devices simultaneously.

AirPlay requires both sender and receiver devices to be on the same Wi-Fi network or connected to the same router using Ethernet. Apple had introduced a feature called Peer-to-Peer AirPlay in 2014, which works even when both devices are not on the same network or any network, but it doesn’t seem to work in all AirPlay operations.

Which devices support AirPlay?

Among the Apple devices, you can use AirPlay on all iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Mac models from late-2012 or later running the latest version of their operating system. In addition, you can also use AirPlay on iTunes for Windows, but that’s the extent of its Windows support. All these are essentially sender devices, meaning they can initiate a stream or mirroring from them to a receiver device.

Compared to the sender devices, which are primarily from Apple, the AirPlay receivers include:

  • Select smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio.
  • Select Roku TVs and  streaming devices
  • Some Fire TV devices
  • Select AV receivers from Arcam, B&O, Bluesound, Bose, B&W, Denon, Integra, JBL, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Yamaha, and more.
  • HomePod models and select speakers from B&O, Bluesound, Bose, Denon, Harman Kardon, JBL, Philips, Sonos, Yamaha, and more.
  • 2017 or newer models of Macs running macOS Monterey

You can find the complete list of AirPlay-compatible devices on the Apple website. Additionally, you can also identify an AirPlay-compatible device by the “Works with Apple AirPlay” label.

How to use AirPlay to stream and mirror content

AirPlay on Apple Music

As mentioned, AirPlay is useful for a number of things, including streaming movies, videos, music, podcasts. You can also use it to mirror your iPad or iPhone screen and mirror or extend your Mac screen.

How to stream content

  1. When you are looking to stream content from an app on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, look for the AirPlay icon on the app. Typically you’ll find it right next to the playback controls. However, you may have to go to options or the share menu to get it in some cases.
  2. Tap on the AirPlay button, and the Apple device will show a list of compatible devices around you. Pick the device on which you want to AirPlay the content, and you are good to go.
  3. When you want to stop the AirPlay, tap on the icon again and select the device you are using.

The same instructions work when you want to AirPlay content using iTunes on Windows. In addition, if you are trying to stream audio but don’t see an AirPlay button in the app, you can also use Control Center to trigger AirPlay to compatible speakers. If your speakers are AirPlay 2 compatible, you’ll be able to stream audio on multiple speakers simultaneously.

How to mirror content

Mirroring Mac display on Apple TV

  1. To mirror your iPhone, iPad, or Mac screen on Apple TV or an AirPlay 2-compatible smart TV, open the Control Center on your device and tap on the Screen Mirroring icon. If you are using an older macOS version, instead of a Screen Mirroring icon in the Control Center, you’ll have to click on the AirPlay icon in the menu bar. If you don’t see the AirPlay icon, you’ll have to go to System Preferences > Displays and enable the “Show mirroring options in the menu bar when available” option.
  2. Once you have clicked on the Screen Mirroring or AirPlay icon, your device will show a list of compatible displays around, and you can choose the one on which you want to mirror the screen.
  3. If your AirPlay-compatible screen shows a passcode, enter that passcode on your original device.
  4. Once mirroring has started, you can tap on the Screen Mirroring icon for more options, including using your TV to extend the Mac display.

Limitations

While AirPlay does what it’s supposed to do pretty well, it has some limitations as well. For example, you can only use AirPlay from one app on your Apple device at a time. So you can’t simultaneously AirPlay a movie from the Apple TV app to your TV and AirPlay a song from Apple Music to a speaker.

As mentioned, AirPlay is limited to Apple devices. Even though some workarounds and hacks exist for other platforms, they are time-consuming and typically not worth the effort.


As you can see, AirPlay is a versatile wireless streaming and mirroring tool for Apple device users. If you are a part of the Apple ecosystem, there is no better option than AirPlay to cast or mirror content from your device. In addition, over the years, Apple has continued to expand the AirPlay feature-set, so it doesn’t feel stagnant and is evolving to fulfill user needs.

Do you use AirPlay on your Apple devices? How has your experience been with it? Let us know in the comments section. We also have similar explainers on Miracast and Chromecast.

About author

Gaurav Shukla
Gaurav Shukla

Gaurav has been covering technology for over a decade now. He has done everything from blogging about Android to reporting the latest from the world of Internet giants. When he is not writing about the tech companies, he can be found binge-watching new TV series on the web. You can reach Gaurav at [email protected]