Mark Gurman: Apple should make Wi-Fi routers

From Gurman’s Power On note posted Sunday to Bloomberg Technology subscribers:

Five years ago, Apple Inc.’s Mac business was a mess.

The MacBook Pro dropped key ports, added a confusing Touch Bar and sacrificed performance in favor of a thin design. The Mac Pro was a disaster for professional users, and key models such as the Mac mini and MacBook Air hadn’t been updated in years. Just as worrisome was Apple backing away from its Mac peripherals: The company stopped making external monitors and Wi-Fi routers.

The story today couldn’t be more different. The latest M1-based Macs have a fair blend of performance, battery life and aesthetics, and the company is also back to making monitors...

Now when you navigate to Apple’s old AirPort website, you’re referred to three Linksys mesh routers with HomeKit support that Apple sells on its online store. It doesn’t have to be this way. Apple should develop a modern mesh network version of the AirPort Extreme.

My take: Another "Apple should" from Gurman. Friend-of-the-blog Dave Emery has been saying this for years.

12 Comments

  1. David Emery said:
    The core argument is “Apple should own the full user experience, particularly where it can provide an improved experience, more security, and make money.”

    I’m still using an Airport Extreme. But with the much newer Macs and iDevices connected to it, the Airport has developed a really bad case of ‘buffer bloat’. (This manifests when the internet connection just stops. It doesn’t time out, but nothing moves. It’s particularly a problem with asymmetric networking like my twinned DSL internet connection.)

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    March 20, 2022
    • Charles A. said:
      I’ve been using the new Verizon G3100 11ax Tri-band WiFi 6 router, which is their default for FiOS service currently. Works with all devices without any problem and is extremely fast. Haven’t had a need for a mesh network, even though the interior space is rather large. Had been using AirPort Extreme for many years, but don’t really see a need for an Apple solution anymore at this point.

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      March 20, 2022
  2. Gary Gouriluk said:
    Amen! I want a new high capacity Airport Time Capsule that can back up all my devices!

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    March 20, 2022
    • Robert Paul Leitao said:
      Gary: As an Apple One Premier plan subscriber, I’m sharing 2TBs of iCould storage among family members which is more than adequate for backing up iPhones and iPads that are in active use. For my home and office Macs, I prefer a local backup to an external hard drive. Especially for my work Mac, the wired backups are much faster than backing up to the cloud and I can take it home with me each evening. If I deployed an updated Airport Extreme at work (if Apple made one), I’d probably attach a drive to the router and follow the same regimen just to have a complete backup of the Mac offsite when I’m not at work and in the event of an overnight disaster. I know what you want. I don’t think there’s a big market for Apple with all of the solutions currently available.

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      March 20, 2022
  3. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    When Apple introduced the Airport line of wireless routers it was often problematic to add a Mac to an existing wireless network. I used Airport products from the time they were first released to resolve connectivity issues. Last summer I reluctantly replaced my aged Airport Extreme in favor of a new a wi-fi 6 wireless router. This was about three years after Apple discontinued the line. Times have changed and connecting Apple devices to other routers and office networks is no longer a problem like it was 20 years ago. In other words, Airport products were no longer needed because the problems they were designed to resolve no longer exist. I certainly would have continued to purchase Airport products if Apple continued the line, but it’s likely the company couldn’t justify the comparatively higher prices and the requisite gross margin. The problem they were designed to resolve no longer exists.

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    March 20, 2022
    • David Emery said:
      Well, (1) the security problems haven’t gone away. (2) technical issues like buffer bloat can be a significant problem in some instances. A few routers contain mechanisms to address this. (3) One feature I’d like to see in a new Apple product is the ability to do network partition, for example to keep packets from untrusted devices (IoT, TVs, thermostats, doorbells, etc) away from the trusted devices (Macs, etc.) A friend has been implementing that using some expensive ‘managed routers’ and associated software, it’s not easy. And that problem will grow as we get more internet enabled devices in the home.

      So yeah, just connecting a Mac/iPhone to a router is easier than it used to be. But the problems that a new Airport product should address are there, and they’re harder to understand and to resolve.

      My plan, by the way, is to replace the Airport with a PFSense box, -IF- I can get help to configure it. That will do just about everything but wash the dishes, but you have to know what you are doing to configure it….

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      March 20, 2022
      • Mordechai Beizer said:
        Great idea, I’d love to be able to partition my home network between trusted and non-trusted devices. Guest networks are not a complete solution because they only deal with devices communicating wirelessly.

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        March 20, 2022
  4. Phil Pontious said:
    I would like a new AirPort with privacy features. According to a 3/9 C|Net article most currently available routers are collecting your online traffic data.

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    March 20, 2022
  5. Phil Service said:
    Couldn’t agree more that Apple needs to get back in the wifi router business. I decided to upgrade my system last year. Home with 3 adults, 3 Apple laptops, 3 iPhones, 1 iMac. The old system was one AirPort TimeCapsule (downstairs) + one Airport Express (upstairs). In retrospect, this worked surprisingly well. Long story short, I did my research and bought Asus from Amazon, then sent it back. Then I bought Linksys from Amazon and sent that back, too. It turns out that latest-model Airport Extremes are about $50 on eBay. Bought four which act as network extenders, with the Time Capsule still acting as the “hub”. To borrow a phrase, “it just works”. Sure seems like mesh wifi to me. Airport Utility still seems to ship with each release of Mac OS. Another area where Apple’s exit from the market wasn’t such a great idea from the “ecosystem” perspective.

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    March 20, 2022
  6. Paul Lane said:
    @Robert
    I too would like Apple to re-enter the market. I adored and owned the various Airport products and the Airport Utility was, and to my mind still is, the most intuitive and easy to use piece of wifi-related software so far produced.

    As to the size of the market I would suggest that it is at least every Mac and iPad user. They all use wifi in their home and/or office. As we know, an Apple product is remarkably attractive because users admire and trust the brand and are willing to pay a premium for that.

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    March 20, 2022
  7. Mordechai Beizer said:
    Amen. I’m still using my AirPort Extreme devices as access points and would love to see Apple get back into the business. For me the most critical issue in choosing a router is that it be from a vendor that can be trusted to provide regular firmware updates. That’s not something that I feel comfortable about with many vendors of consumer-grade routers.

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    March 20, 2022
  8. Daniel Epstein said:
    I sympathize with this one as I am still a heavy user of Apple Airport routers at my home and office. And I do think there is an opportunity for Apple to redesign the home and small office experience with a new router. Using Siri on Apple TV more and controlling items on my network with Home don’t seem to require an Apple Router. A router alone is probably not a big enough market to make it worth Apple’s effort. So far connecting to other routers for Wifi is not the problem it used to be as others have mentioned. The overall smart home or office experience still seems clunky to me. In my case Spectrum provides my cable, internet and phone service into my apartment. The access point for the cable is very poor for Wifi router coverage for the rest of the apartment and garden. Speed drops over short distance are adequate but not always maximized. I have solved this with several Apple routers. Also use some for analog audio out feeds to older equipment. Other new analog solutions seem to be just as pricy as old Apple gear. Maybe Apple can come up with a new grand solution which the Router would be the hub for. I think working on other devices might be more profitable.

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    March 21, 2022

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