Apple has already been on a roll this year with extending AirPlay 2 beyond its traditional place among speakers, with news last month that three major TV brands will support AirPlay 2 for not only streaming audio, but also displaying video from an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook — without the need for an Apple TV set-top box.
Now, it looks like Roku may also be looking to join the AirPlay 2 club. According to a sources that MacRumors spoke with, Roku is currently in talks with Apple about adding AirPlay 2 support to its set-top boxes and dongles.
The sources indicate that the AirPlay 2 support would most likely arrive in the form of a Roku OS update for existing media players, and would probably also extend to smart TVs with Roku OS preinstalled, such as those made by Sharp, TCL, Insignia, Hisense, Sanyo, and RCA — dramatically extending Apple’s video streaming footprint for the impending launch of its new streaming service.
A partnership with Roku would be an interesting step for Apple, which up until now has only provided AirPlay video support through its own Apple TV set-top box. The announcement of AirPlay 2 support in smart TVs last month was already unprecedented, but the addition of Roku to the AirPlay 2 family would mean Apple directly supporting the technology in a competing set-top box — a big shift for the company that’s traditionally kept everything within the walls of its own hardware ecosystem.
However, as we’ve seen recently, Apple has been putting a much stronger emphasis on its services business, so it makes sense for the company to prioritize the widest possible support for streaming video over simply selling its own hardware — particularly for a product like the Apple TV, which is only slightly more than a “hobby” for Apple, and likely represents a fraction of the company’s overall revenue — especially in light of recent reports that it might actually be a loss leader.
Apple also surprised more than a few people by debuting Apple Music on Amazon’s Alexa speakers last fall, extending the reach of its music service beyond its own HomePod, and making it clear that it’s more important for Apple to sell Apple Music subscriptions than it is for the company to sell HomePods.
So it’s not surprising that sources speaking to MacRumors indicated that a Roku-Apple partnership may even extend beyond AirPlay 2 to including direct support for Apple Music on its set-top boxes, essentially gaining a Roku OS app to access the streaming music service, allowing it to compete on at least equal footing with Spotify, Amazon Music, and Pandora.
Although it wasn’t mentioned, there’s also the possibility of Roku also getting Apple’s TV app at some point in the future. Since the TV app is going to be the “home base” for Apple’s upcoming video streaming service, it would likely be in Apple’s best interests to follow its strategy with Apple Music to also extend its video service to as many platforms as possible. This also makes more sense in light of recent rumours that Apple will be offering its original content free of charge to Apple device owners — a qualification that’s almost pointless unless non-Apple device owners will also be able to access the service. Samsung TVs are already slated to get Apple’s Movies and TV Shows apps in this year’s models, so the TV app may not be far behind.
As for Roku, plans are not finalized so it’s still unclear what the timeline would be for a software update, or which of Roku’s players will be supported; last year’s rollout of AirPlay 2 on Sonos revealed that older hardware doesn’t necessarily have the processing power required to handle AirPlay 2, suggesting that only newer Roku devices are likely to be included.