The Future of AirPort

It was a sad day when Mark Gurman revealed that Apple was discontinuing development of their AirPort routers. I could usually pass off a rumor like this as just a rumor, but considering the source, it’s likely true. Mark Gurman has an impeccable track record when it comes to Apple’s future plans and I doubt this particular news is any different.

But the home network is the foundation by which all of Apple’s products are built. And I think it would be foolish for them to completely abandon the market. I can see why the current lineup may be failing, though. They don’t offer much above and beyond what other manufacturers’ products do, but they’re much more expensive. Designing new, mesh-capable routers that offer modern functionality — like Siri support or a whole-home backup solution — would go a long way towards enticing new customers and would allow Apple to continue charging premium prices.

If Mark Gurman says that Apple has disbanded the AirPort team, I’m sure it’s true, but I can still hold out hope that Apple is halting development of their current router lineup in an effort to build something new to replace it with.

The first product in this new lineup would be an internet-connected speaker with a built-in microphone for Siri — let’s call it the “Apple Hi-Fi”. It would be built-on iOS, directly compete with Amazon’s Echo, and integrate with all of Apple’s services. There would be an app for iOS that handles the setup process — you give it your iCloud and iTunes credentials, alongside your existing Wi-Fi password (if you’re adding it to a network) and the Apple Hi-Fi takes care of the rest.

Of course, the Apple Hi-Fi’s Siri implementation would be able to respond to queries about the weather, set timers, and read Wikipedia articles, but Apple would have a big advantage over competitors by integrating their services. There’s dozens of potential opportunities here, but this is a handful of my favorite ideas:

  • AirPlay functionality for playback from Macs and iOS devices.
  • Apple Music integration for streaming music from the cloud.
  • Reading the latest headlines from Apple News.
  • Informing you about upcoming iCloud calendar events.
  • Communicating over iMessage.
  • Perform FaceTime audio calls.
  • Telling you the location of friends and family with Find My Friends.
  • Control HomeKit devices.

The thought of Apple building an Amazon Echo competitor is exciting, but once you consider the huge potential for unique functionality, this thing starts to sound like a real home run product. As long as Apple is willing to swing for the fences, this thing could be huge.

From a hardware standpoint, I don’t expect the Apple Hi-Fi would look too dissimilar from the Amazon Echo or Google Home. It would undoubtedly feature Apple’s own aesthetics, but would be more or less cylindrical in shape with ports on the back. The major change would be its ability to act as a home router in addition to its Siri functionality.

The next product would be a spiritual successor to their current AirPort Time Capsule — I’d call it “Apple Time Capsule”. Much like the current model, it would feature an integrated, multi-terabyte hard drive for use with Time Machine and simple shared storage. But it could also be a target for iOS backups as well. This would be perfect for users who want local backups of all of their devices to shrink the amount of downtime during hardware failures — restoring from a Time Capsule would be much quicker than from iCloud.

But iOS backups alone wouldn’t be enough. The Time Capsule could be given your iCloud credentials and, if enabled, would automatically encrypt and upload all data stored on its drive to iCloud. Whenever any of the files change, those changes would remain in-sync with the copies on iCloud. This would make the Time Capsule a whole-home backup solution that offers local and offsite copies.

Apple could continue offering their current prices for iCloud storage, but would treat Time Capsule backups as a separate entity, charging a flat monthly fee for the service. The amount of storage available to you would be tied to the amount of storage inside your Time Capsule — when you reach your limit, the oldest backups would be automatically deleted to make room for the new ones.

This new Time Capsule would be the device most-likely used as your main Wi-Fi base station. So although any of Apple’s new routers could be used this way, the Time Capsule would be the only one that features multiple Ethernet ports for a wired network.

The last product I’d have in Apple’s new router lineup would actually be the Apple TV. Apple could add the ability for their set-top-box to act as a home router or extend an existing network with mesh capabilities. The current Apple TV already has an Ethernet port, why couldn’t you connect that to your modem and setup the network on your television with the Siri Remote?

With the Apple TV, Apple Hi-Fi, and Apple Time Capsule, the company would be able to offer one complete thought around home networking. Each appliance would have the ability to be your main base station or contribute to a mesh network. But in addition to that, they’d each offer unique functionality that goes above and beyond the typical home router.

Each customer would be able to mix and match these products to fit their home’s needs. Maybe you want two Apple TVs and a Hi-Fi; a Time Capsule and an Apple TV; one of each; or just a Time Capsule — simply pick one to be your main base station and setup the others to connect to it. This is exactly the type of product lineup that I have come to expect from Apple — deeply integrated into all of their services and built to work together. I hope that disbanding the AirPort team was the first step towards a future lineup like this.