Last week, Apple released an update to the AirPort Express, the hockey-puck version of the wireless device. This device was discontinued earlier this year, and it’s surprising that Apple updated it. But this suggests that Apple is betting big on AirPlay 2 as a technology to maintain some amount of control over music playback. By ensuring a vibrant ecosystem for AirPlay 2, Apple stands to make money from licensing, but also to influence the way music is streamed in the home.
Naturally, Apple wants people to buy HomePods, but many people are already using the AirPort Express to stream audio to a variety of devices, from standalone speakers to full stereo systems. While more and more amplifiers and receivers support AirPlay, Apple certainly wants AirPlay 2 to become a de facto standard, inciting more manufacturers to include support, and to update existing products (if possible) to work with AirPlay 2.
One of the key features of AirPlay 2 is better multi-room syncing. Sonos pioneered this, and lots of people like their hardware, but even more so their software. Apple knows that they can nudge their way into this market; even Sonos is supporting AirPlay 2 or a couple of its speakers.
As yet, Apple has not provided an upgrade for the Apple TV 3, another device used for in-home streaming, in part because, like the AirPort Express, it has an optical audio jack. However, it’s more likely that people who were using devices for multi-room streaming depended on the AirPort Express, unless they were also streaming video to a TV. It will be interesting to see if Apple updates that device too.