Diving into Dio: What’s AirPlay and Why?

Tl;dr of today's post:
  • Dio’s production samples update
  • Android compatibility *may* be coming
  • How AirPlay technology works, what makes it different, and why it’s the best
  • What we’re jamming: binge of the week

What's New with Dio This Week

No production samples yet 🙁

I know I promised a sneak peak of our first production samples this week, but our manufacturer caught a low voltage issue with the first couple speakers. It’s all fixed up now, but we’ll have to wait till the next newsletter to show off these speakers IRL! Keep an eye on our Twitter to see early demos 😉

Android compatibility...maybe

AirPlay, the audio streaming technology that Dio speakers are based on, is native to Apple devices, but I’ve been exploring ways to bring the same Dio experience to Android as well. Nothing official yet, but I’ve been exploring a few leads on that front so stay tuned!

Marketing is hard

As a solo entrepreneur, it’s easy to get bogged down with just the fun technical stuff about Dio. But the flip side of the coin is getting people interested and engaged with this super cool new product, so I’ve been practicing my tweeting & redditing this week. Can’t say it comes naturally, but it’s a fun new skill to learn! Next stop: TikTok!

Dio Deep Dive: What is AirPlay and Why?

I’ve been getting a few questions since my last blog asking essentially the same thing: “C’mon, Akarsh, why do Dio speakers only support iPhones?” I have a short answer and a long answer to this question. The short answer is summarized in the table below so that you can see upfront the advantages of AirPlay against the other popular audio streaming standards. Not only does AirPlay offer a vastly more versatile experience (e.g, you never have to worry that a certain app on your phone won’t play out of your speakers as is the case with Google and Alexa speakers), but it also makes Dio Node cross-compatible with over 100 other speaker models from other brands. With all this under consideration, AirPlay became a no-brainer to make a product that is truly multi-room in every way.

The long answer dives a little bit deeper into how AirPlay actually works, which is very different from Bluetooth and Google Cast/Alexa. See the “Native Integration With Phone” and “Peer-to-Peer Device Streaming” rows in the table? We’re about to find out what that really means.

Let’s begin with what our options are for making multi-room audio possible on speakers. The starting point, of course, was Bluetooth, a near universal standard. I found out quickly, though, that Bluetooth is an almost exclusively one-to-one technology (i.e, one device streams to one speaker) and did not have any easy, affordable, or reliable way to make multi-room/multi-speaker audio work (more on that in a future deep dive). Since most people are listening to audio on smartphones nowadays, the real question became what non-Bluetooth standards are there that enable multi-room audio through your smartphone? For this, there are essentially only three main choices: Amazon AlexaGoogle Cast, and, of course, Apple AirPlay.

Amazon and Google’s standards are examples of internet streaming. Any Google- or Alexa-compatible speakers connect directly to the internet, enabling their voice assistants to play your audio without you having to use your phone at all. If you do use the Google Home/Alexa apps on your phone to control your speakers (or hit the “chromecast” button in an audio app), they essentially send a command to a server on the internet that controls your speakers, which then sends a command to another server on the internet that stores audio (such as Spotify’s or Apple Music’s servers) to stream the audio directly to the speakers. This way, the audio never plays on your phone to begin with.

Pretty nifty, right? There’s one big problem though: your speakers need “permission” to access the big Spotify/Apple Music/etc. servers to begin with. This means that Google/Amazon need to partner with whatever app you like to listen to your audio with before your speakers can actually play that audio. Do you like listening to audiobooks from Audible? Well then, Google Cast won’t work for you. Prefer YouTube Music? Stay away from Alexa, then! Prefer Apple Podcasts? Neither of those options will work, as Apple hasn’t permitted either protocol from accessing its podcast servers!

The remaining option is Apple AirPlay, a protocol that works through WLAN instead of the internet. What does that mean? Instead of connecting to the internet to control your speakers, your phone can find speakers connected to the same Wi-Fi router, and then use your router to share information (in this case, your audio stream) to your speakers without the speakers ever having to request information from the internet.

The big advantage of this, of course, is that you don’t need “partnerships” to play audio – most apps already allow your smart phone to play from their servers, so it’s just a matter of transferring that over to your speakers via your router. And while AirPlay isn’t the only WLAN-based streaming technology out there, it is the only one that works through a smartphone. The reason for this is because both Android and iOS lock out 3rd party developers from rerouting your phone’s sound output to foreign devices in this way, and Google hasn’t gotten around to making a WLAN equivalent protocol for Android phones.

And there you have it, folks. Hope that explains the decision for you. If you have any more questions or comments about this, feel free to comment below!

What We're Jamming This Week

I figured a fun way to end each blog is a spotlight on what I’m listening to. Hope this serves as a fun way to get recs on music, podcasts, and audiobooks from someone deeply immersed in all three! Please feel free to tweet at Dio if you’ve got some recs for me!

Binge of the week: AJR

I’ve gotten really into this band since their latest album, OK Orchestra, dropped in March. Did you know they are just three brothers who record & mix all their music by themselves at home? You can check out the Dio Spotify playlist to see my favorite songs by them.

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