Apple is ceasing production of its AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and AirPort Time Capsule Wi-Fi routers. I had a chance to speak to Apple briefly about the decision, and here’s the statement I was given:
“We’re discontinuing the Apple AirPort base station products. They will be available through Apple.com, Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last.”
AirPort was originally introduced by Steve Jobs at Macworld New York in July of 1999. Back then, wireless technology was in its infancy and Apple felt it had to provide not only Wi-Fi support in Macs, but Wi-Fi support in general, up to and including the routers, in order to bring it to the mainstream. Over the years, as we progressed to faster and more robust Wi-Fi standards like 802.11n and 802.11ac, Apple similarly felt it had to stay in the market and help push those standards forward.
Not just for wireless routing, but for other features wireless routing made possible.
For example, AirPort Express, introduced in 2004, included a built-in audio jack that could connect speakers and stream music wireless across your house or business. Time Capsule, introduced in 2008, included a hard drive so that, when combined with OS X’s then-new Time Machine feature, it could wirelessly, almost effortlessly, back up all of your Macs.
Apple continued adding new features like dual-band support for simultaneous 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz connections, and guest networks. But, over time, that slowed and then stopped.
The AirPort Base Station line was last updated in 2013.
Since then, we’ve seen the advent of mesh networking, which lets larger, more irregular, and more challenging areas enjoy better and more robust coverage. Rather than release AirPort Mesh, though, Apple chose to offer the Linksys Velop at its retail stores instead.
I take that as a sign that Apple nows sees Wi-Fi routers as a thriving industry all its own, with multiple, highly-motivated vendors that no longer need the platform-maker to push technology and innovation. And, looking at iMore’s list of the best Wi-Fi router alternatives to the AirPort Base Station it’s hard to disagree.
(Though, I think it’s safe to say that if Apple ever felt Wi-Fi routers were languishing and it had unique and important advances to contribute to the space, it would consider re-entering the market.)
Routers are different. They’re infrastructure. They’re behind televisions, underneath desks, and in closets. For some people, especially people who appreciate Apple’s design and manufacturing, and its unequivocal stance on security and privacy, the loss of the AirPort line will still be a blow.
I’m one of those people.
But I’m also reminded of a comment Steve Jobs once said to one of his direct reports: Sure, Apple could do that and make some money at it, but was it really a business Apple had to be in?