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When Apple revealed last spring that Audio Sharing — a feature that would let two users listen to the same music from one iPhone — would be coming to iOS 13, the announcement actually raised more questions than it answered, the most notable of which was why Apple was limiting it exclusively to only some (not even all) of its own headphones and ruling out other Bluetooth headphones entirely.
Although Apple hasn’t commented on the new feature beyond its original announcement of iOS 13 at WWDC, text found in early iOS 13 beta release notes confirmed that it would only be compatible with the AirPods and the PowerBeats Pro, at least at that time.
This created even more confusion, since the release notes explicitly included the first-generation AirPods, which are powered by Apple’s original W1 chip, and yet included none of the older W1-equipped Beats headphones like the Solo3 or Powerbeats3, but rather only the latest Powerbeats Pro that use Apple’s newest H1 chip.
About the only thing that the supported models have in common is that they’re Apple’s only “true wireless” earbuds — that is to say, they don’t use a wire to connect the left and right modules.
Of course, this was all during the early betas of iOS 13, so it was certainly subject to change, and if a new report from Engadget is accurate, the feature is being extended to all Beats headphone models that use the W1 chip as well as the H1 chip — something that makes a lot more sense considering the first-gen AirPods have been on the list since the beginning.
So the list of Audio Sharing compatible headphones now includes not only all of Apple’s AirPods, but also the Studio3 Wireless, BeatsX, Powerbeats3 Wireless and Solo3 Wireless models, plus of course the new H1-equipped Powerbeats Pro.
While Engadget doesn’t provide a source for its information, it says that the feature will be available on Beats headphones “from September 23,” which raises another interesting question, since this is the day before iOS 13.1 is scheduled to be released, but even more oddly, earlier projects had suggested Audio Sharing wouldn’t be arriving until iOS 13.2, and the footnote for the feature on Apple’s iOS 13 page still reads “Coming later this fall,” distinct from the “Available September 24, 2019” footnote that’s shown for other items that will be coming with iOS 13.1.
Still, while the dates may be confusing, the point is that all of Apple’s and Beats’ W1/H1 equipped wireless headphones should be able to support the new Audio Sharing feature.
Why Not Other Bluetooth Headphones?
Since audio sharing is ostensibly a Bluetooth 5.0 feature — Samsung and other Android devices have supported it for a while now — many have wondered why Apple is limiting it on iOS only to its own wireless earphones.
Some of course are quick to suggest that it’s just a way to force people to buy AirPods or Beats, but it seems much more likely that Apple has simply built its own version of the audio sharing protocol.
This is actually borne out by the fact that Apple’s Audio Sharing won’t specifically require a Bluetooth 5.0 device. Although the minimum supported iPhone model is the Bluetooth 5-equipped iPhone 8, the oldest iPad model to offer the feature, the 2017 fifth-generation iPad, still only uses Bluetooth 4.2, and in fact even the new seventh-generation iPod touch still uses Bluetooth 4.1, since it retained almost all of the same specs as its 2015 predecessor.
So Apple is clearly not relying on the Bluetooth 5.0 Dual Bluetooth Audio Sharing, but has in fact rolled its own solution, and this is fair when you consider that Apple’s AirPods and PowerBeats Pro have some unique technical challenges that Bluetooth 5.0 doesn’t directly address.
Other “true wireless” earbuds only make a single Bluetooth connection to the source device from one of the modules, relying on Near-Field Magnetic Induction (NFMI) to pass the signal on to the other one. This means that are far as your smartphone is concerned, these are just another set of Bluetooth headphones.
Apple’s AirPods and Powerbeats Pro earbuds, however, actually maintain independent — and perfectly synced — Bluetooth connections from each of the earbuds. This is why either earbud can be used by itself for making phone calls or listening to monaural audio. It’s not hard to understand how this would require Apple to create its own audio sharing protocol rather than relying on the Bluetooth 5.0 standard, with the added bonus that Apple doesn’t need to limit the feature to only the most recent iPhone models. Whether we’ll see in arrive in iOS 13.1 next week or “later this fall” is another question, however, but at least it sounds like Beats entire wireless headphone lineup will be ready for it when it does come.