Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

AirPlay Frustrations

AirPlay is a truly wonderful technology. A majority of the time, my Apple TV serves as a music playback device through my receiver and decent stereo speakers. Because the Apple TV’s Music app is pretty terrible, I usually play music on my iPhone or MacBook through AirPlay; playback is virtually flawless.

But getting to the point of playback is often a difficult and cumbersome experience. Manuel Grabowski captures many of the awkward UI moments in this piece, but I will add just a couple more:

  1. My Apple TV was named “Space Portal” for a while, and one of my neighbours has named theirs “Living Room”. There is a delay between when my Apple TV displays in the playback list and when my neighbour’s does, and the list sorts alphabetically, so it was not uncommon for “Space Portal” to shift down one cell in the time between me moving my thumb towards the screen and it actually making contact.

    After a while, I changed my Apple TV’s name to “Apple TV” — just in time for the AirPlay menu to be redesigned in iOS 14.2 to load from the bottom up instead of the top down. So now, sometimes, I will go to tap “Apple TV” and find that its cell has shifted up and the cell has been replaced my neighbour’s.

    This seems to be an unwinnable game.

  2. I don’t know what the timeout is for AirPlay if you pause music playback on your iPhone, but it does not appear to be very long. It is even shorter for third-party apps like Overcast. So, very frequently, I will pause my iPhone’s music playback to, say, watch some YouTube clip with audio on my laptop; by the time the clip has finished and I wish to resume playback, I must turn AirPlay back on. (See above.)

    For whatever reason, AirPlay does not resume at the same volume on the same device. I know it’s just one extra slider that I must change, but it interrupts the magical experience. Instead of being able to simply pick my Apple TV — the only thing I have ever AirPlayed to — and have music playing in an instant, I must manually select the Apple TV I was just using before briefly pausing playback, then turn the volume back to the way it was just moments before.

These are admittedly minor complaints, but it makes something so simple feel more complex and difficult and unfinished than it needs to be. AirPlay, as a technology, is great. But AirPlay, as an action, is bumbling and confused.