Great thoughts from Michael Tsai on Apple’s decision to discontinue their AirPort router line.
Great thoughts from Michael Tsai on Apple’s decision to discontinue their AirPort router line.
Imagine an alternate reality where Apple, instead of discontinuing their routers, reinvented home networking. They updated the AirPort Express, Extreme, and Time Capsule with mesh networking capabilities and brought the HomePod and Apple TV into the fold. In addition to the Apple TV and HomePod’s current feature set, they could also be used as your main router or as nodes that contributed to the network.
You could buy as few or as many products from the lineup as you need. If you just want something cheap to get you in the door, buy an AirPort Express. Down the line, you could add an Apple TV in the living room, a HomePod in your kitchen, and a Time Capsule in your office for local backups. And each device added to your setup will improve your network stability and range.
I can understand if Apple’s heart isn’t in it anymore. But the above scenario is exactly the sort of thing that I used to expect from Apple. An Apple that cared deeply about controlling the whole stack and developing products that worked better together. But I guess they’ve come to terms with the idea of building devices that rely on Eero, Netgear, and Linksys for their connectivity.
Remember when the Apple Airport was the best home WiFi solution? I sure do. I had a series of terrible routers and finally spent the money on an Airport. The system tools were easy to use and the WiFi was substantially better in my house. But still not perfect.
Last year I started using the Eero Mesh networking routers (Disclosure: they’re an occasional MPU sponsor) and my home WiFi made one of those leaps in technology that makes all nerds so happy. Everything got much better and my family now has stopped pestering me about dodgy WiFi.
Since moving into our new house this past fall, we’ve had some occasional Wi-Fi hiccups. A few times each week, our Wi-Fi just gives up on us. During those moments, we’re still connected to the network, but we aren’t able to transfer any data. This hasn’t compelled me to tear apart our setup quite yet, but it’s getting close.
I’ve been toying with the idea of just purchasing an Eero system with the expectation that it will solve all of our problems. But I already have a Time Capsule, AirPort Extreme, and an AirPort Express. Our house isn’t that large and I feel like I should be able to solve our Wi-Fi issues by repositioning and reconfiguring our existing setup. And of course, I don’t want to spend nearly $400 on a problem that I might be able to fix by investing a little time into it.
But I suppose, if Eero is as good as everyone says it is, it will be a worthy investment.
Update: I spent the afternoon repositioning my AirPort routers, resetting their firmware, and reconfiguring their settings. I moved our Time Capsule to the other side of the office and am now using our AirPort Extreme to extend our network on the other side of the house — instead of the AirPort Express that we were previously using.
It’s only been a day, but our network seems much more stable now. I’m able to get consistent speeds in our master bedroom, which is located on the opposite side of the house from our main base station. This was where most of our dropouts occurred and was especially irritating when we were trying to quickly toggle HomeKit devices or respond to messages before going to sleep for the night.
With any luck, the hour or two I spent on the project will have fixed our problem and I won’t have to spend a bunch of money on new hardware.
A great home networking tip from Ben Brooks:
Put your entire network on battery backup. It’s rare that the power goes out these days, but there have been a handful of interruptions to my area of late — lasting about two hours each time. My network, and thus my internet, stays up and online the entire time. Which means I can still work without burning through a data plan.
I love this idea. I have 10GB of tethering data available from AT&T each month now, but I wouldn’t mind having faster speeds during the rare instances when the power’s out.
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:
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.
Rene Ritchie, writing for iMore:
Apple’s AirPorts are currently pre-mesh. You get an AirPort Extreme and, if it doesn’t reach every room in your house, you get an AirPort Express — or another Extreme — and cobble it all together. It’s… quaint. Perhaps even antiquated. And it’s no longer the best experience for Apple’s customers.
I think Apple’s AirPort routers are still great products, but they aren’t the best on the market anymore. In the three years since they were last updated, mesh has become the high water mark. I haven’t seen any rumors of updates to the AirPort lineup, but I have to imagine Apple’s working on it. They’d be foolish not to.
Ron Amadeo, regarding the OnHub’s smartphone app:
If you’re going to leave a comment with the question “Can it do x?” the answer is probably “no.” You can pick the name, password, static IPs, enable UPnP, do port forwarding, and really nothing else. You won’t be installing DD-WRT or doing anything advanced anytime soon—it’s a simple router.
And, as for the OnHub’s Wi-Fi speed when compared to a similarly priced router from Asus:
We also tried a speed test on a Nexus 6 in the yard about 100ft away from the router. Again, the OnHub lost. The Asus router handily beat the OnHub no matter where we were testing, with both increased range and better throughput (and that’s with being bridged to the OnHub, which probably gave the OnHub a small advantage). If you’re looking to spend $200 on just a router, there are better deals out there.
So, it doesn’t pack many features and isn’t even faster than other routers on the market. Why would anyone buy this? Because it’s likely a trojan horse for Google’s smart home initiative.
Personally, I wouldn’t suggest anyone buy the OnHub today. The idea of a smart home is too far off for the majority of people. And I think most would be better off spending the next few years with a great, feature-packed router than spend $200 on one that’s designed for what your home might eventually become.
Ron’s concludes with similar sentiments:
Right now, the router doesn’t seem like anything special. It’s perfectly functional but not much else. No one should buy the OnHub as purely a Wi-Fi router. What will make or break this device is the upcoming smart home functionality, and right now we just don’t know what that entails.
At first, Google’s OnHub announcement felt a little out of place to me. But I quickly realized that it’s all about the internet of things — by the way, can someone please come up with a better term. Google needs hardware inside of your network to act as a relay which helps you control devices remotely. And it looks like their newly announced $199 wireless router will do just that.
Chris Burns, writing for SlashGear:
Google OnHub was revealed today by Google as the first doorway to a full smart home ecosystem. This service will be tied together with software protocols revealed in part earlier this year as Google Brillo and Google Weave. […]
Google OnHub will be the first Google Brillo device.
As for the router, it’s an attractive piece of hardware with impressive features and an easy-to-configure interface. It’s a little expensive compared to other routers on the market. But if you’re interested in buying it, you probably want it specifically for its unique features.
Personally, I wouldn’t even consider the OnHub for my home network. I have a couple of computers that I prefer to connect to my router with Ethernet and I rely on my Time Capsule’s hard drive for local Time Machine backups — both of which aren’t possible with the OnHub.