Apple AirPlay and AirPlay Mirroring Explained

Whether streaming content or mirroring a display, AirPlay's the answer

With their large storage capacities and the ability to store music, movies, TV, photos, and more, every Apple iOS device and Mac is a portable entertainment library. Usually, the libraries are designed for use by only one person, but you may want to share that entertainment. For example, you may want to play music from your phone over speakers at a party, show a movie stored on your phone on an HDTV, or project your computer display to a projector during a presentation.

Instructions in this article refer to current Apple devices and Macs as well as older Macs with iTunes 10 or higher and iOS devices with iOS 4 or higher.

About AirPlay Technology

Apple prefers to do things wirelessly, and one area where it has excellent wireless features is media. AirPlay is a technology invented by Apple and used to broadcast audio, video, photos, and the contents of device screens to compatible, Wi-Fi-connected devices. For example, if you want to stream music from an iPhone X to a Wi-Fi compatible speaker, use Airplay.

AirPlay replaced a previous Apple technology called AirTunes, which only allowed the streaming of music.

AirPlay Requirements

AirPlay is available on every device sold by Apple. It was introduced in iTunes 10 for the Mac and was added to iOS devices with iOS 4 on the iPhone and iOS 4.2 on the iPad.

AirPlay is compatible with:

  • iOS 4.2 or newer
  • iPhone 3GS or newer
  • Any iPad model
  • 2nd generation iPod touch or newer
  • A Mac made in 2011 or later
  • Apple Watch (Bluetooth audio only)
  • Apple TV (2nd generation or newer)

AirPlay doesn't work on the iPhone 3G, original iPhone, or original iPod touch.

AirPlay Streaming for Music, Video, and Photos

With AirPlay, users stream music, video, and photos from their iTunes library or iOS device to compatible, Wi-Fi-connected computers, speakers, and stereo components. Not all components are compatible, but many manufacturers include AirPlay support as a feature for their products.

All devices must be on the same Wi-Fi network to use AirPlay. You can't, for example, stream music to your house from your iPhone at work.

AirPlay Mirroring

AirPlay mirroring technology lets AirPlay-compatible iOS devices and Mac computers display whatever is on the screen via an Apple TV device. With this feature, you can show the website, game, video, or other content that is on your device's screen on a big-screen HDTV or projector screen, as long as an Apple TV is attached to it. Mirroring is often used for presentations or large public displays.

This capability requires Wi-Fi. Devices that support AirPlay Mirroring are:

  • iPhone 4S and newer
  • iPad 2 and newer
  • Most Macs
  • 2nd generation Apple TV and newer

Having problems using AirPlay because the icon's missing from your iOS device or Mac? Learn how to fix it in How to Find a Missing AirPlay Icon.

How to Use AirPlay Mirroring on an iOS Device

To mirror what you are doing on an iPhone (or other iOS devices) to a TV or projector screen that is attached to an Apple TV device:

  1. Pull down from the top of the iPhone screen (in iOS 12) or up from the bottom of the screen (in iOS 11 and earlier) to open Control Center.

  2. Tap Screen Mirroring.

  3. Tap Apple TV in the list of available devices. A checkmark appears next to Apple TV when the connection is made, and the Control Center image appears on the TV or projector.

  4. Tap the screen on your iPhone to close Control Center and then display the content you have to show.

    Screen Mirroring on an iPhone
  5. When you are ready to stop mirroring from your iPhone, pull down from the top of the screen to reopen Control Center, click AirPlay, and select Stop Mirroring.

How to Use AirPlay Mirroring on a Mac

Screen mirroring from a Mac is a little different. 

  1. Open the Mac System Preferences by clicking the Apple logo in the menu bar and selecting System Preferences.

    Mac desktop with the System Preferences command highlighted
  2. Select Displays.

    Displays in macOS System Preferences
  3. At the bottom of the screen, select Show mirroring options in the menu bar when available, which places a shortcut icon on the menu bar for future use.

    Show mirroring options checkbox in Display options
  4. Select the AirPlay Display drop-down arrow, then choose Apple TV. A pop-up screen instructs you to enter the AirPlay code for Apple TV, which is located on the TV or projector.

    AirPlay Display menu in settings on macOS
  5. Type the code that is displayed on the TV or projector you are using into the field provided. After you type in the code, the Mac display is mirrored to the TV or projector via the Apple TV device.

    The AirPlay Code is required only the first time you mirror to a specific device unless you change the settings to require it every time. After that, you can turn AirPlay on and off from the menu bar icon.

    AirPlay code field in macOS
  6. When you are ready to stop screen mirroring, click the AirPlay icon on the menu bar. It looks like a TV screen with an arrow pointing up into it. Click Turn AirPlay Off in the drop-down menu.

    Turn AirPlay Off command in macOS

AirPlay on Windows

While there used to be no official AirPlay feature for Windows, things have changed. AirPlay is built into Windows versions of iTunes. This version of AirPlay isn't as full-featured as the one on the Mac. It lacks mirroring capabilities, and only some types of media can be streamed.

AirPrint: AirPlay for Printing

AirPlay also supports wireless printing from iOS devices to Wi-Fi-connected printers that support the technology. The name for this feature is AirPrint, and most current printers support the technology.