Simple AirPlay setup for whole house audio

I’ve been enamored with home audio since I was a very young.  I can recall turning on radios in separate rooms of the house so I could run from room to room playing my guitar along with the radio, preparing myself for future “rock-stardom”.  Fortunately for us all the long hair and spandex didn’t survive the 80’s but my desire to have audio in every room of the house didn’t.

Since then, I’ve spent more time (and money) than I should trying to build a fully distributed, multi-source audio distribution system, or what has been marketed at Whole House Audio but the big A/V vendors.  None of these efforts have been inexpensive, user friendly, or as functional as I would have wished.

Needless to say, I was very excited at the potential uses of AirPlay when it was initially introduced by Apple.  Utilizing this feature built into IOS devices and iTunes, you can easily put together a reasonable system (from a cost and complexity standpoint) that will give you fairly good results.

I’m certain there are more ways to do this than I’ll give you here, so please don’t flame me for forgetting your preferred method….

Step 1 – Start with a source

The most basic of AirPlay sources is iTunes.  If you’ve accepted iTunes to be your central storage for all digital media, this gives you a good based from which to start. iTunes gives you a lot of flexibility here and can easily be controlled via the Apple remote app from any IOS device.

From iTunes or the Remote app you can select your music or playlist as well as the destinations within your home.  Each AirPlay target has a separate audio level control available so you can balance out the levels to your preference (or the devices capability).

If you don’t want to use your media library and you prefer to stream your music selections, you are in luck.  You can use a streaming source, like Pandora, to feed AirPlay.  In this case I will use an iPad which I have Pandora set up on.  Launch the app and start playing your preferred playlist.  Once it starts you can double-click the home button to bring up the “multitasking bar”, swipe to the right and you’ll see your audio controls, from there you can click on the AirPlay button to choose which target you would like to use.

Step 2 – Simple target devices (or audio destinations)

Since AirPlay has been out for just over a year now and manufacturers are now starting to integrate it’s features into their devices.  Audio/Video receivers from Denon and many small speaker/dock devices have implemented AirPlay, but I’ve yet to see one of these solutions that are reasonably priced to use if you wanted to stream music to say 5-7 locations in or around your home.

The approach I’ve taken doesn’t really care if the speakers or stereos are “AirPlay enabled” or not.  In fact, most of my target systems are built from either powered speakers or systems we’ve had in our home far longer than the existence of AirPlay.

So how do I connect them?

One of the simplest and underrated devices from Apple is the Airport Express.  While it has the capability to extend your wireless network (albeit at the expense of your throughput), make USB devices like hard drives or printers wireless, or provide ethernet connectivity to a non-wireless device, the biggest feature is it’s ability to be an endpoint in an AirPlay environment.

On every airport express is a combination mini-toslink and analog miniplug connection.  So you can connect to a RCA input with a mini to RCA cable or directly to a digital input with the mini-toslink to toslink cable.  I am very aware that Apple sells a nice “kit” with both these cables for an astonishing $39.  A quick Google search will find an appropriate cable for your application for less than $5 per cable.

I have Airport Expresses using both options.  Where I have a bookshelf stereo unit with optical input, I’ve connected the AE via the toslink cable.  However in a simple and somewhat portable setup, I’ve used another AE simply connected to a pair of powered computer speakers.  With these two options, you can probably accomodate most any stereo or powered speaker setup you have in place today.

To extend my options a bit further, I’ve also utilized Apple TV2s as target devices for AirPlay.  ATV2s fit quite a different category of use verses the AE.  The biggest difference for me is the lack of an analog audio out on the ATV2.  While it has a full size optical output, it can perform the same function as an AE connected to a receiver with an optical input.  This is truly a matter of preference, do what you wish here.  The deciding point for me is what is the end device.  If it’s really at TV, then the ATV2 is the preferred component.  If it’s an audio only device, then the AE is my preferred device.

So now rooms like bedrooms and the family room don’t necessarily have to have a dedicated audio system in them to have audio streamed to them.  The downside to this particular option is that you have to have the television on in those rooms in order to have the audio output.  Whereas you can leave the stereo or speakers connected to the AE always on and set to a preferred volume level.

Step 3 – MultiSource?

While not a traditional multi-source setup, you can get a similar function from this setup.  I cannot use iTunes running from my central media server to serve up different playlists to different rooms/targets.  This would be a wonderful feature if someone on the iTunes dev team could work that out.  However you can use a couple of sources (possibly multiple iTunes or IOS devices) to control separate sets of speakers.  So my daughters could use the iPad to connect to speakers in the bedrooms upstairs to play Radio Disney while I have iTunes or my iPhone streaming music to all the speakers downstairs or outside.

If you’re looking to distribute audio on a fairly reasonable budget, I don’t believe you can easily beat this setup.  It definitely gives you a lot of flexibility about what you want to put where (from a target perspective) and can easily grow to fit your needs.  As each iTunes and IOS update come out, I eagerly look to see what new AirPlay options may be enabled.  Especially as Apple starts to introduce the ability to distribute video in the same manner.  But that’s a whole other topic…

Why is my iPhone logging my location?

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Apple officially acknowledged the growing controversy over the logging of location data on the iPhone and iPad. They have published a Q&A on their website which clearly states:

Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.

It then goes on to address the other concerns that have been commonly used in articles hyping the issue:

Quote from acknowledgment:

The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.

Interestingly Apple does admit that this wasn’t entirely well thought through and are considering the lack of ability to completely disable the function a “bug”

7. When I turn off Location Services, why does my iPhone sometimes continue updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apple’s crowd-sourced database?
It shouldn’t. This is a bug, which we plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below).

Apple has now released IOS 4.3.3 which:

  1. makes the location cache size smaller, thus limiting the amount of data collected on your location (and presumably the amount of time that can be traced back)
  2. No longer backs up the cache information to your iTunes account on your computer.
  3. Allows for complete disablement of the cache when you turn off the location option in your settings.
If you are not using an application that needs location services, why not take the safer route and turn off the feature until you find you need it?  As odd as that sounds to many iPhone users, a quick check of a few iPhones near me revealed that 3 out of 7 users (highly informal poll I know) did not have their location services on and were quite happy with their iPhones.

iOS 4.2 is out! Update your iDevice!

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

While many people (me included) are happy to update their devices to iOS 4.2 for the new features enabled, most are not aware of the security fixes included that are also necessary.  iOS 4.2 (like many iOS updates prior) includes fixes to address multiple vulnerabilities. Exploitation of these vulnerabilities may allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code, initiate a call, cause a denial-of-service condition, gain system privileges, or obtain sensitive information on your iPhone, iPad, or iTouch.  (While there is an update for AppleTV also, I’m not aware of what, if any, vulnerabilities were addressed with that update).

A quick overview of these fixes includes fixing an issue with the new iAD service where the ads could send you to malicious sites, fixing mail issues where properly formatted HTML emails could send information back to the sender of the email, and a network issue where properly formatted PIM messages could cause a denial of service situation or the device to completely shut down.

To see a full list of the vulnerabilities addressed, please see Apple’s security page here:  http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4456

Related Articles

Android and iPhone exploits revealed in past week

Over the weekend, a new Web-based jailbreak became available for iOS devices, offering users a simple method to open their devices to installation of unauthorized third-party applications.  An error in the processing of Compact Font Format (CFF) data within PDF files can be exploited to execute arbitrary code e.g. when a user visits a specially crafted web page using Mobile Safari.

This is applicable to any iOS 4 device (all new iPhone 4s, iPads and any upgraded iPhone 3G and 3Gs).  On of the main features of iOS 4 was the SandBoxing approach to applications.  This exploit bypasses the SandBoxing by exploiting a third party app.  I have to say this doesn’t help Adobe’s popularity in Cupertino.

Time will tell if Apple will release a patch to iOS to resolve the issue or if Adobe will have to update their code.  For the time being, the best advice is to browse “safely” (if that’s really possible anymore) or just not browse at all.

The Andriod exploit has a completely different twist on it.  Spider Labs released a DVD at Defcon last week that provided a method to root the device.  Once the exploit is applied the Android device acts as a bot for the hacker who has full remote-control over the device providing access to all the user information on it.  What makes this more interesting is that Spider Labs is an ethical hacking team using this approach to incentivize manufacturer to provide  a fix to the issue more quickly.

“It wasn’t difficult to build,” said Nicholas Percoco, head of Spider Labs, who along with a colleague, released the tool at the Defcon hacker’s conference in Las Vegas on Friday.  Percoco said it took the team about two weeks to build the malicious software.

CNET reported that there were ten companies had data compromised.  The list included Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Apple, and Google amongst others.  All information was solicited through one phone call to an employee of the company.

************** UPDATE Aug 5th **********************

CNET has posted that Apple has acknowledged the issue and already have a fix.  They did not mention when it would be released but a software update is imminent.

************** UPDATE Aug 11th *********************

Apple has released iOS 4.0.2 for iPhone and iTouch as well as iOS 3.2.2 for the iPad to address this vulnerability.  Of course the a side effect to addressing this vulnerability is that it now breaks the functionality of JailbreakMe 2.0.  Not that this should be a surprise.

Verizon to make an iPad killer… filed under is this really news?

http://preview.bloomberg.com/news/2010-05-11/verizon-wireless-is-in-talks-with-google-about-developing-tablet-computer.html

Is anyone surprised that another company is planning to make a touch screen tablet?

Anyone surprised that Verizon wants a piece of this market?

Anyone surprised that Google is planning to use it’s Android platform for a larger touch screen device?

You shouldn’t be.  Microsoft introduced a touch screen “tablet” device back in 2001.  Many manufactures produced PDA’s of various form factors and eReaders have been around for at least a couple of years.  Heck even Apple has been down this road before with the Newton in 1987 (yes, that’s 87).  Even though it was 20 years later when Apple introduced the iPhone, there exist some similarities in the “look” of the platform.

Anyway, back to the iPad killer…

I still stand by my argument that we need this type of computing platform.  (yes need) To expect other vendors to not enter this market space would be naive.  How many new MP3 players hit the market after the iPod was released?  How many other touch screen mobile devices have been introduced in the three years since the iPhone was introduced?  So we should absolutely expect someone to want to compete in this market space.  And that’s a good thing.

Apple has legitimized the market space for this type of device.  While talking it down for years saying a complete and “user friendly” device did not exist, they managed to suppress the market with marketing and now have opened up that space.  Lets we forget that Palm, the guys who really made the PDA popular, have had the WebOS which runs their Palm Pre device and now rumored to power the new HP Hurricane device (which may or may not successfully run Flash).

I will be interested to see the Android based device, as well as the WebOS device.  I stick by my earlier article in that the platforms need to not only be intuitive, but must almost manage themselves for them to really take hold and displace any traditional device (laptop).

So the best I can really say to any article about the iPad killer is.. REALLY?  It must be a slow news day.  I could probably create that story on any given day:

  • GM introduces Ford truck killer!
  • Cheese Cake Factory introduces Friday’s combo killer!  (wait, I might like that)
  • GAP introduces Levis jeans killer!

Get the idea?

At best I think it’s probably a good search engine technique vs an article title (heck, I’m giving it a try).

I guess it’s just a matter of being first to market or at the top of the market.  One way or another you are a target and someone will be aiming for your spot.  The odd thing is, this market has existed for years, it just no one outside the “geek” community really paid any attention to it.

Maybe all the Appleholics are right, you don’t really need it until Steve says you need it….

Rumor: Landor Associates working on upcoming iPhone campaign for Verizon

Rumor: Landor Associates working on upcoming iPhone campaign for Verizon

I haven’t had any real issues with AT&T and the iPhone.  I’ve tried playing the lottery numbers and it’s not that I’m somehow lucky or more fortunate that others.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t make that many phone calls and I’m mainly a data/sms user.  Granted I’ve been in locations with “one bar”, but those coverage issues weren’t any different that any other carrier there.

Given the recent Android sales numbers (7% more sales for the market than iPhones in the last quarter), maybe Apple is looking for a competitive boost from this.  However Apple is certianly paying attention to those sales numbers and what is really behind them.  With all the buy-one get-one offers and reduced prices on Android devices, you would expect sales to be brisk.  Imaging how many iPhones would be sold this quarter if AT&T released a $50 iPhone offer, buy-one get-one FREE?  Yeah, we can only hope…