Today Libratone is announcing the Zipp, one of the first truly portable wireless speakers to use AirPlay instead of Bluetooth. That means you can take it to the park, far away from any router-based Wi-Fi network and still establish a point-to-point connection between the Zipp and your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
It's not Apple's solution nor is it a Libratone invention
A technology called "Airplay Direct" was first rumored by The Telegraph's Matt Warman back in August, just before the iPhone 5 was revealed. Although Warman said the technology to enable point-to-point connectivity between iOS devices and AirPlay speakers would be shown during the iPhone event on September 12th, it's not until today that we're getting a highly publicized first glimpse. Libratone's PlayDirect, however, is not AirPlay Direct in that it's not Apple's solution, per se, nor is it a Libratone invention. As we understand it, the technology was dormant in the AirPlay chipset, unused by Apple — it was Libratone that pushed to make the point-to-point connectivity a reality. You might recall that AirPlay is built upon the BridgeCo chipset that can be found in any number of generic network-enabled audio devices.
Libratone's Creative Director, Kristian Kroyer, tells The Verge that Apple is pleased with the outcome but, as far as he knows, has no plans to implement it as a standard part of the company's AirPlay solution. Kristian stresses that the idea to put the pieces together and to implement it came from Libratone, and only the Danish company is currently authorized to use it. "PlayDirect" is a Libratone trademark.
Great. Unfortunately for Libratone, Pioneer has its own point-to-point AirPlay moniker called "Wireless Direct" that it claims is a Pioneer exclusive and is already shipping in its A3 XW-SMA3-K speaker. And Klipsch just announced that its G-17 Air speaker system supports a "new technology" it calls 'Wi-Fi Direct."
iOS 6 supports PlayDirect by routing audio over Wi-Fi and your data over 3G
Regardless, iOS 6 supports PlayDirect by routing audio over Wi-Fi and your data over 3G. I was able to test this on a pre-production Zipp and iPhone 4 running iOS 6 — it worked flawlessly. I was able to create a direct connection between my iPhone 4 and Zipp AirPlay speaker while simultaneously streaming music from my Spotify account. Naturally, the Zipp can also join a regular router-based AirPlay network when you return home.
As a speaker, the Zipp was impressive to hear and to behold in its multi-colored woolen sleeves. It's quite small, comparable in stature and sound to the Jawbone Big Jambox and Bose SoundLink Bluetooth speakers. The advantage of using AirPlay over Bluetooth is two fold: 1) AirPlay has enough bandwidth to support true lossless audio for better sound, and 2) integrates into the increasingly popular Airplay ecosystem that many Apple device owners are already familiar with.
Other specs include a battery that plays for 8-hours over wired connections or 4-hours untethered, one 4-inch bass driver and two 1-inch ribbon tweeters capable of pushing 60 watts total. In my time with the Zipp, the speaker easily filled a hotel conference room with 360-degree sound while demonstrating very little distortion even at top volume.
Zipp will be available in Apple stores and other retailers in late October for $399 / €399 for one sleeve, or $449 / €449 for the speaker plus a three-sleeve party pack.