I'm on a streak of discovering old technology. This time it's Spotify Connect, thanks in part to the Amazon Echo. I've just signed up for Spotify (and a Premium trial) for the first time, to broaden the music collection that I can access with Alexa. I had avoided Spotify for some time, when it was only accessible via Facebook login, so it's all brand new to me. That includes the premium Connect feature, which lets you choose your audio output device from any instance of the Spotify client.
Connect is a revelation to anyone who has only used AirPlay to get music from point A to point B. The major differences are that Connect is 1) not directional and 2) not constrained to the local network. AirPlay relies exclusively on a directional model, with some devices acting as sources and others acting as receivers. For example, there's no way to beam audio or video from an Apple TV out to a Mac, or from any device into an iPhone. On Connect, all devices are created equal, and unlike AirPlay sessions that can only be initiated from a source device, the source is the cloud. That means that I can switch output from my Echo to the speakers attached to my Mac using my iPhone, something thoroughly impossible with AirPlay.
With great flexibility comes great responsibility, especially since Spotify Connect operates over the internet, not local Wi-Fi. Yesterday morning I tried to listen to Spotify on my phone at work, but I didn't realize that playback was set to my Echo at home. Suddenly some pretty gnarly noisepop chiptunes were playing in my living room at home, much to the surprise of the person sitting a few feet away from it. (I stopped it pretty quickly, at least!)
All of my marveling and missteps aside, Connect is rock solid. As I swapped between earbuds on my phone and speakers on my Mac, I barely noticed the crossfade between them; certainly there was no stuttering or buffering. This is a feature I've wanted from Apple since the iPod. In college, I had an iPod dock plugged into my PowerBook G4 in my dorm room. I wanted to be able to listen to music on my walk from campus, arrive home, dock the iPod, and have iTunes pick up right where I left off. Today, with iCloud everywhere, that seamless experience should be part of the Apple ecosystem, and with no 30-pin connectors required. In the meantime, two competitors — Amazon and Spotify — are the closest to granting my wish from 2004.