Following a rumour last month that Roku is working on bringing AirPlay 2 support to the set-top box, it looks like Roku and Apple are now very close to unveiling the feature, which would be another big sign that Apple is actively expanding support for its services ecosystem well beyond its own hardware.
According to MacRumors, which first broke the original report last month, source have revealed that negotiations between Apple and Roku are “nearly finalized” and at this point the two companies are basically down to working out the specific launch date and marketing strategy behind the new feature.
Roku is expected to introduce AirPlay 2 support in the form of a Roku OS update for its Roku media players, but it’s not yet known which specific models will be supported; while it seems likely that Apple and Roku would want to make the streaming protocol as widely available as possible, older hardware may simply not have the processing power to support the more sophisticated protocol — especially when it comes to video streaming. Sonos ran into a similar problem adding AirPlay 2 support for audio to its speaker lineup, where the feature was rolled out via a software update — but only to recent models.
While it’s no surprise at all that AirPlay 2 audio support has been rolling out to a wide range of speakers since Apple released the new protocol with iOS 11.4 last spring, AirPlay 2 support for video streaming has traditionally been the exclusive domain of Apple’s own Apple TV set-top box. The announcement earlier this year that major TV brands would be getting AirPlay 2 support was enough of a surprise; Apple partnering with a set-top box that is in direct competition with its own Apple TV is unprecedented.
However, much like the arrival of Apple Music on Amazon’s Alexa speakers last year, this move provides another indication that Apple is far more concerned with making sure its services are as widely available as possible. The Apple TV has never been among Apple’s flagship products — it famously began as a hobby for the company, and in fact it seems Apple makes very little money on the Apple TV hardware, which more likely has always served as a “loss leader” to promote Apple’s iTunes Store content, as well as providing streaming and home hub options for iPhone users.
In short, like the HomePod, the Apple TV is an accessory for those already invested in the Apple ecosystem, but Apple would ultimately rather see people buying iPhones and subscribing to its services — especially with its video streaming service on the cusp of launching — and so much the better if users of competing set-top boxes can be welcomed into the fold.
AirPlay 2 integration on Roku’s devices will apparently provide the same capabilities that Apple TV users currently enjoy, including streaming video, audio, photos, and other content from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. While Roku previously provided AirPlay-like capabilities through its own app, native AirPlay 2 support will provide significantly more options, and will undoubtedly allow Apple to gain more eyeballs for the video streaming service that the company is expected to unveil later this month.
Naturally, neither Apple nor Roku have offered any comment about this upcoming integration, but inside sources suggest that the two companies are actually working on making a big deal out of it for marketing purposes, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see it unveiled alongside Apple’s new video service at the upcoming March 25 event.