We have an old Bose Wave Radio sitting in our kitchen. We used to have a CD player hooked up to it, but that has long since broken, and who listens to CD’s anymore, anyways? These days, the Bose is mostly used to play NPR.
With increasing frequency, however, we find ourselves wanting to play content on our iPhones in the kitchen. Sometimes this is because our three year old wants to dance to music, or I am doing dishes and would like to continue to listen to my NPR podcasts rather than whatever random call-in show is currently playing on NPR.
While we have an auxiliary cable that allows us to hook our iPhones up to the Bose, it doesn’t get used very much. The plug is too wide for the headphone jack hole in the phone’s protective case, which means that we have to take it out of the case to use it. More importantly, once we do this, our phone is tethered to that corner of the room. It becomes a pain to go back to send an email, look something up on the web, or answer a phone call. Instead we tend to just crank up the volume on the phone to the max and listen to the comparably tinny speaker.
With iOS 4.2, Apple released AirPlay support, which allows iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches to stream music and video over the wireless network to another device. This is most often discussed in the context of Apple TV, which is not much use to us. Our television is up on the 3rd floor, far from the kitchen, and it’s still an old, standard definition set that doesn’t support the Apple TV’s HDMI output (To learn more about why we are one of the last families in America with a standard definition TV, you can read about my over-the-air TiVo setup).
What I recently learned is that Apple TV is not the only device that supports AirPlay. The Airport Express, Apple’s stripped down wireless station, also supports AirPlay with iOS devices. While the Airport Express can act as a wireless router, it can also function as a node on an existing network. It provides an auxiliary jack that can hook it into a stereo, thereby allowing it bring music from anywhere in the house to a stereo system, all without wires.
I decided to pick one up for my birthday (as my father always says, the best thing about a birthday present you buy yourself is that you get what you want, and you know the person who got it really cares) and see if it would work. While it should have been pretty straightforward to get it working, I did have to work through a couple of issues.
The biggest problem was getting it to attach to our wireless network. While it should be simple, it turns out I had problems because we are still on the old WEP security model. I know we can switch to something higher, but I have never bothered since I’m not too worried about protecting my network from anything beyond the casual passerby or neighbor trying to steal wifi. The Airport configuration utility recognized the network as WEP but kept trying to set it up as a WEP 128 bit device. After this failed multiple times, I looked at other options and saw that there was a WEP 40 bit. I was never aware there were multiple versions of WEP, but I tried this instead, and it started working instantly.
The second problem was that my phone did not initially “see” the Airport Express. I gave it a reboot, and then it started working.
Now, when I play music on the iPhone, it somehow magically becomes aware that there is an Airport Express on the wireless network and shows an Airplay icon in the iPod controls:
When I press it, it gives me options for playing the audio through the “iPhone” or through the “Kitchen Airport Express”, which is what I named the device when I set it up. Music starts streaming through the Bose Wave Radio, giving me the full Bose quality of sound, but leaving me free to walk around the house with my phone and do other tasks on it.
Part of the beauty is also that anyone in the house with an iPhone can use it. My wife is already getting more use out of it than I am.