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Hands On With AirPlay 2 and Sonos

AirPlay 2 is now available, and it will change how your clients interact with their Sonos devices.

Alert: Changes to Lock Screen Controls for iOSIt will no longer be possible to control your Sonos system from the lock screen of your iPhone or iPad, including use of the hard volume buttons from the lock screen, if you have an Apple TV or other AirPlay-capable non-Sonos devices in your household with AirPlay enabled. It is still possible to use hard volume buttons from within the Sonos App. —Sonos, July 2018

Apple rebranded its popular AirPlay audio/video slinging feature as AirPlay 2 last month at WWDC 2018, and it became available late last week on the Apple app store and Sonos. I decided to give the new features a test drive. What follows might disturb some readers. Read on at your own peril.

First things first: AirPlay 2 may rear its head first to users of iOS devices when they notice their audio controls aren’t available anymore on the phone/tablet lock screen. Sonos specifically called this out in an update last week. In addition, AirPlay 2 only works with newer speakers from Sonos. They do a good job explaining all of this in their AirPlay 2 blog post. If you have a Sonos One, Beam, Playbase, or a second generation Play:5, you’re in good shape. If not (for example if you happen to be a custom installation company with a ton of Sonos CONNECT:AMPS in the field), prepare for some customer calls about this one. Arm yourself with knowledge to avoid unnecessary truck rolls.

Related: Sonos Deepens Relationship With Alexa With New Beam Soundbar

My own home set up contains a pretty typical CI industry configuration. I have multiple CONNECT:AMPs, a Connect, and the first generation PLAY:5. None of these are compatible with AirPlay 2. To enable AirPlay 2 support, I’ll need to add one of the newer products listed above, send AirPlay content to the compatible product, and then group it manually with my legacy speakers. If you’re confused by this process, count on some customer friction. We like simple, and this doesn’t appear simple for the custom installer or client.

Our strategy at Livewire is going to be the same as it has always been. We communicate and educate. After we finish thoroughly testing AirPlay 2 in-house, we’ll write a blog post for our web site and send out an email blast encouraging our clients to upgrade their systems in order to leverage AirPlay 2. I love our industry because we never have to apologize for needing to upgrade hardware. I’m bummed that none of the amplifier products from Sonos will support AirPlay 2, but don’t despair — CEDIA’s coming soon, and I’m sure Sonos has an amplifier refresh in their product pipeline.

Related: WWDC 2018: Apple Puts Its Software Cards On The Table

Other third-party manufacturers pledging support for AirPlay 2 include Bang & Olufsen, Denon (AVR line only — no HEOS support), Libratone, Marantz, and Naim. I value objectivity, and don’t want to sound like a Sonos fanboy, but based on this list and the fact that Sonos is the first of these third-party AirPlay 2 manufacturers to market, it looks to be largely a conversation around Apple and Sonos.

If Sonos functionality hadn’t been hobbled (lack of audio controls on the phone/tablet lock screen), I’m not sure I would’ve written this article. After all, true whole home audio and AirPlay have been wholly different for many years. That gap appears to be closing with Apple trying in earnest to make a play once again for “hub” status. With this Fall’s launch of a new iOS and HomeKit upgrades, we might see some incremental movement in Apple ecosystem adoption, but, until then, we need to stay mindful that our clients are using their iOS devices to control our audio, video, security, and control systems more than any other user interface. If Apple makes a change or decides to hobble functionality, it’s up to us to pivot and proactively deal with any fallout that may arise.

Good luck communicating with your clients. What impacts do you see AirPlay 2 having in your business? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Stay frosty and see you in the field.