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Apple TV 4: Peer-To-Peer AirPlay Without WiFi

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Your source device (Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) must be close to Apple TV for peer-to-peer AirPlay to work. If I move my iPhone more than 5 feet away from my Apple TV, it starts to lose the connection. Desktop Mac owners will suffer the most from this limitation. If you’re using an iOS device, this means you will most likely need to get up off the sofa to change music or a video. I can’t blame Apple for this one, as it is a Bluetooth limitation.

Most video content won’t play using peer-to-peer AirPlay. I tried it with Netflix, and it didn’t work using either AirPlay or AirPlay screen mirroring. There are claims that it works with Hulu. Bluetooth actually provides sufficient bandwidth to stream video. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could stream Netflix using cellular data, but watch it on the big screen? When my ISP is having problems, I end up watching Netflix on my iPhone. Unfortunately, peer-to-peer AirPlay doesn’t remedy this situation. You can always shell out $40 to buy the lightning-to-HDMI adapter. Given the gross unreliability of Comcast, I may end up doing this!

Peer-to-peer AirPlay also drains the battery rapidly compared to standard AirPlay. Bluetooth seems to be more of a battery hog than WiFi. If I play about 10 minutes of music, my iPhone will lose 2% of its battery life, even with the screen locked.

Peer-to-peer AirPlay only works with Apple devices. Unlike standard AirPlay, it isn’t supported on Windows computers, even with iTunes installed. AirParrot and other third-party vendors don’t support peer-to-peer AirPlay. The feature is tightly coupled with Apple’s Bluetooth hardware.

The overall design and reliability of this system leave much to be desired. Peer-to-peer AirPlay requires a lot of fiddling and rebooting to work. It can break easily, and you may need to restart your iOS device and Apple TV to get it to work again. The iOS AirPlay UI seems to show that an AirPlay connection is possible, even when it’s not. For example, if I turn off Bluetooth and WiFi, it will still show the AirPlay control with my Apple TV in the list. It just won’t work. When I turn WiFi and Bluetooth back on, it still won’t work. I need to restart my iPhone. Maybe this feature was implemented by summer interns? Perhaps Apple just didn’t want to invest time and resources into doing it right? In either case, it’s embarrassingly bad.

There you have it, warts and all. Peer-to-peer AirPlay is far from perfect. It’s limited and quirky. The technology has its uses and can come in handy when you don’t have access to a WiFi router or your Internet service is offline. It has so much potential, and could have been implemented as a failover to make AirPlay rock solid. That said, the required fiddling is justified when you have no other options.

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