I was lying in the bath last night, listening to mucic streamed via wifi from my computer in my home-office, controlling it using RemoteBuddy on my iPod touch, thinking ..... Apple's AirTunes is such a great technology, why on earth do they not do more with it?
I was pretty organised back in 1985 when I re-wired my flat. There are speaker cables wired-in, running from the living room to the bedroom, office and dining room. That made a lot of sense when I only used my lovely old Quad 300 series Hi Fi, but these days, my music is on my computer in the office. The bath is one of those places where I really like to listen to music. I've been kicking myself for not wiring in speakers, but it would be really expensive to do now, I put fancy flooring down, I cannot get under the floor to lay new cables.
So I finally splashed out on a couple of AirPort Express. One in the living room to feed the wired HiFi, one in the bathroom to feed some old but good Yamaha powered speaker. Having to crank up the volume in another room, to be able to hear music in the bath used to really annoy my neighbours :)
So here Apple have this great tech, but what are they doing with it? One piece of hardware, not updated for may years (AirPort Express) and one piece of software that can send music to it (iTunes).
Rogue Ameoba, who make some great software for the Mac, like Audio Hijack, have a title called AirFoil. It allows any software's audio stream to be sent via AirTunes. In a recent update, they added Airfoil Speakers, a piece of software to turn any Mac into a player for AirTunes.
I think Apple should take note of this powerful idea (sorry RA). You see the problem with Airfoil Speakers is that it is not compatible with iTunes. Apple use some encryption in their hardware, that stops Rogue Ameoba from being able to fully simulate an AirPort Express.
Apple could solve this problem. Either open it and allow a "Made for AirTunes" programme develop like "Made for iPod", or just build AirTunes in at a System level (control speaker-sharing and audio destination in the Audio Sys Prefs).
Apple could make a whole new ecology of hardware and software for AirTunes.
Basically, any device with an audio out, and any device which has a library of music to play, should be able to play with AirTunes. Any device that can do both, should be able to play on another device, or play from another device.
A boom-box with built-in iPod docks and AirPort Express which runs on MacBook batteries would be a great start.
iPhones and Macs could play to it via Wifi. iPods without Wifi could play from the dock, or select another AirTunes client that the boom-box can see locally. Similarly now the latest AirPorts are coming with hard drives, why not add an amplifier and some iPod docks.
One of my favourite evening-with-friends activities, is playing music together, taking it in turn to play one track, it can be really good fun, specially with people who know their music. We used to do it with a couple of thousand vinyl LPs, then CDs, now MP3s. Do this with computing devices and you can makes games from the interaction.
Now that everybody is walking around with all of their music in their pocket, the next thing to sort out is how people can play their music to other people. Streaming is a great solution because it does not involve copyright-busting copying.
I hope you are listening Apple :-)