Air Play 2 in the first beta of iOS 11.4 lets users add AirPort Express base stations as speakers. Sort of. This could become a relatively inexpensive option for whole-house audio.
What makes this move surprising is that Apple hasn’t updated the AirPort Express since 2013. That said, the wireless router is still being sold on the company’s website.
Even though it came out almost five years ago, the second-generation AirPort Express has a feature not included in most wireless routers: an audio port. This allows almost any speaker to be plugged in. It also has 802.11a/b/g/n and supports 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless bands.
This accessory sells for $99 new, but it’s been around for so long that used units can be found for under $50.
The initial beta of iOS 11.4 debuted this week, and a signature feature is Air Play 2. The original version allows you to wirelessly stream audio from an Apple computer to a compatible speaker. With AirPlay 2, the audio can be simultaneously streamed to more than one speaker. Plus, the new version allows multiple Apple devices to interact with the audio being streamed. People are really looking forward to using this with their HomePod smart speakers.
AirPort Express for the win
People trying out HomeKit and Air Play 2 on the early version of iOS 11.4 noticed that their AirPort Express 2 base stations show up as speakers when adding accessories. They never did before.
At this point though, HomeKit won’t actually connect to the devices. Presumably, this would require a firmware upgrade for the router. Whether Apple will actually release this is anyone’s guess.
Still, the AirPort Express is still being sold by Apple, and at the original $99 price. Perhaps the company really intends to bring Air Play 2 support to it. If so, the router could work in tandem with a HomePod for whole-house audio.