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Is the age of Apple-branded accessories coming to an end?

Apple AirPort Extreme Time Capsule
Apple AirPort Extreme Time Capsule (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

Rumor has it Apple will be discontinuing the company's wireless routers, a line that currently consists of the AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and Time Capsule products last updated in 2013.

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has disbanded its division that develops wireless routers, another move to try to sharpen the company's focus on consumer products that generate the bulk of its revenue, according to people familiar with the matter.Apple began shutting down the wireless router team over the past year, dispersing engineers to other product development groups, including the one handling the Apple TV, said the people, who asked not to be named because the decision hasn't been publicly announced.

Earlier this year, Apple told me they were discontinuing the Thunderbolt display. So, this wouldn't be the first accessory Apple cut to focus on core products.

If true, I'll miss both the easy AirPlay feature of the AirPort Extreme, and the set-it-and-forget-it backup capability of the Time Capsule. The former let me beam music to any speaker system plugged into the Express. The latter just worked over wireless to keep a local backup of my MacBook and MacBook Pro.

Hopefully Apple will partner with other vendors to fill those gaps. Just like LG replaced the 4K and 5K displays Apple decided not to ship, a variety of router makers could step up to support AirPlay and Time Machine.

There's a lot Apple could still do with a home hub, including nearline iCloud, update staging, HomeKit handling, multi-person Siri voice control, and more. But, all of that would factor into a future product, not a past one, and it would be more of a device in its own right and less of an accessory.

Still, Apple still seems intent on updating other accessories, like the Magic line of Keyboard, Mouse, and Trackpad. The first of those, Magic Keyboard, seems especially primed for an update that includes Apple's new Touch Bar and Touch ID setup for Mac.

So, maybe it's better to frame it as Apple clearing the deck of what was so the company can focus on what's next?

Either way, I've used AirPorts for over a decade, they've always served me well, and I'll always appreciate the hard work and dedication of the teams behind them for that.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

47 Comments
  • Bummer deal, I am with you I like the uniqueness of their routers and have always had one and I hope they work with 3rd parties as you stated. I always appreciate your articles Rene :).
  • I don’t think it’s the end of all Apple accessories, but it may be the end of standard accessories of the type made by many 3rd parties. It looks like they are focussing on more advanced accessories that are specifically geared for their ecosystem, like the AirPods and, hopefully, a new Touch Bar keyboard.
  • I felt like this sort of thing was coming, I just wonder what will be next. Things seem to be going through a lot of change right now and I don't know what the result will be. What they actually sell in their stores in terms of products keeps shrinking. I kept thinking Apple would be growing.
  • Your post hit on something I really noticed on a recent trip to Kansas City. We visited the new Country Club Plaza Apple Store, which is 3 times the size of the old location, and yet the number of made-for-Apple products and accessories on display for purchase was significantly less than in the old store. There just weren't as many additional non-Apple gadgets at all, and I found that really interesting. The entire store was just as much of a zoo as the old location was, very crowded and noisy, but if you were not there to buy an Apple product, there wasn't much to see.
  • AirPorts can die a molten death, for all I care. What kind of dumbass router needs a proprietary app for configuration and no fallback method whatsoever.
  • I’m inclined to agree here. For basic purposes the Airport range is a lovely product with a nice interface., (I have two currently and have had 4 in total). For anything complex it’s a heap. I don’t think my next router would have been Apple even if they weren't going to discontinue it.
  • Rene - I know you don't like to write anything Apple doing wrong but lots of sites are reporting that iPhone 7 with Qualcomm radios are being throttled back to match speeds with iPhone with Intel radios. Any comment or just don't report because it's anti Apple?
  • Probably doesn't report it because they're one of the many articles that come out shortly after the release of a new iPhone for the sole purpose of "clickbait". I highly doubt that's true
  • AirPort routers are the routers I've had the least trouble with of several I've used over the years, and also gave me the strongest signal. For me it's a loss because other manufacturers do not seem to build their routers with such quality. Sent from the iMore App
  • You go to be joking about signal. The Netgear range are great. If ugly.
  • You have no clue what you are talking about. As far as complex networking features goes, AirPorts are for technology muggles. Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • I can't stand the thought of using another router / time capsule... The iphone / ipad airport apps are dead simple to use too... In fact, I think another product or products is going to replace these... If for nothing else, time machine... Think about it... a Homekit hub / time capsule / app tv / Siri device that transport you to another time and place just by clicking your red ruby slippers together... You know, something like that!!!~ Cmon Apple, get-er done!!!
  • Have used 3 generations of Time Capsule and numerous express units. Pity their demise. Apple wants you to do your backups to iCloud with a revenue conveyor belt of a subscription.
  • All the crap name brand routers had a raft of significant security issues over the last few years. In comparison, I think airport only had one. If Apple exits the router business, our security will take a hit.
  • 'All the crap name’. That means nothing unless you can back up at least one brand and one issue.
  • Sorry but that is BS! You can do one of two things. 1. Buy a router that is known for good secuirty where you don't have to do hardly anything to get it up and running or buy a router that is known to be dd-wrt flash-able https://www.myopenrouter.com/ . If you do the 2nd you have a highly secure router with many power features not seen on many routers. If you want option 1 then most of the new routers like Google WIfi (https://store.google.com/product/google_wifi) , EERO https://eero.com/), or Luma (https://getluma.com/). Those options about are the next generation of home wifi. Option 2 is more old school.
  • This would suck. The AIrport Express is a great way to turn any set of speakers into a set of Airplay speakers. I've been using one for years on a set of speakers in my living room. Maybe they have plans to turn the TV into a router of sorts. Apple's routers have always been easy to set up. Not looking forward to using some complicated set up from TimeWarner or AT&T.
  • Lets face it. Apple just laid a **** when it comes to Airplay. They were first, they were best, and now it's a tur*. They just let it rot away. Google latter came out with Google Cast. It works on speakers from cheap powered $10 speakers to the ultra high end systems that cost $1,000.00s with tos link fiber to the receiver. The Chromecast audio receivers are only around $30 per pair of speakers. You can setup different rooms and audio groups just like SONOS. Apple really just screw this one up. The router should have nothing to do with airplay. Here is something I put together recently for my kitchen. (https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/279060BWGBCDU/ref=cm_wl_huc_...)
  • Apple TV converts audio though. AirPort Express is just a perfect solution for audio I can't begin to imagine the life after it.
  • Like other comments, I am disappointed to hear about the wireless routers. I have owned 2 Time Capsules over the years and they have been reliable and easy to use. It is very much a "set it and forget it" device (of course, you need to check all routers and back ups periodically). It is my hope that if they do exit the business, they will partner with other vendors.
  • Setting up non-Apple routers is very difficult and impossible from an iOS device.
    This is a very sad day :(
  • Huh? Provided the router's wifi is enabled out of the box, which is the case with most router makes these days, you should just be able to wirelessly connect to the router using the defaults it ships (usually on a sticker at the bottom) with, launch Safari, enter the routers IP into the address bar, and configure away. I set up two new routers (an Asus and a Netgear) just this month for acquaintances, all with my iPhone. It's more a pain for people like me who flash third party open firmware like DD-WRT or OpenWRT on their routers, because these will have wifi disabled after rebooting, needing a wired connection to perform initial configuration.
  • "launch Safari, enter the routers IP into the address bar, and configure away." And be presented with an interface from 1995, which has no mobile interface, it'll be a desktop-interface where you have to zoom into different parts of the page. Most routers have an incredibly unintuitive, non-user-friendly interface. I know what I'm doing, being technically-inclined, but a lot of people won't. The beauty of the AirPort routers was that they were made as simple as possible, so that _anyone_ could set it up.
  • Most routers released these last two years - at least most in the same price range as the AirPorts - come with mobile friendly interfaces. I didn't have to pinch and zoom once with two routers I configured this month. I'm not saying the AirPort's interface isn't superior. But it's proprietary. What if your singular Mac or iDevice dies and the other working system in your home runs an OS like Linux which Apple doesn't release an Airport Utility for? There's no fallback.
  • No it ain’t.
  • It's not impossible, but the web interface you get on routers are usually not pretty at all. They're developed by engineers, not designers, and are often re-used from older routers so you're presented with an interface which looks like a website from 10+ years ago. It certainly won't adapt to mobile, so you'll be zooming in and out to see things
  • An interface you use once for 5 minutes needs design attention? Okay... Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • If you don't really know what you're doing, it's going to take more than 5 minutes, especially with a horrible user interface. Also, there's usually an abundance of options on router web interfaces, so in the case you want to tinker with more settings, you're going to be spending longer than 5 minutes. Regardless of how long you're using it, there's no excuse for lazy design
  • A 3rd party can replace the AirPort functionality, but not the security. 3rd party routers do support Time Machine, but it won't "just work." Sad.
  • If true I am glad Apple has decided to rip the bandaid off. My Apple Airport/Time Capsule routers have all be crashing routinely for the past year under heavy loads (many simultaneous uploads/downloads from many IP addresses). Apple has no way to sniff packets on an internal network and automatically give more bandwidth or lower latency to services that need it (NetFlix or VoIP). They have no support for standard local network monitoring software. Now I know to look at third party routers rather than wait for Apple to get their act together. My only concern is what will Apple use for a central Siri based home hub? An AppleTV?
  • Bottom line here is another example of how Mr Cook Apple works weather or not something works or not just shut it down. At this point I am not surprised by these moves any more just another example of Apple's poor business Strategy and more importantly poor management decisions! This opinion by the way comes from a long time Apple user, I hope one day Apple will return to its 'just works' model. Though as long as the current CEO is in charge I doubt it.
  • Normally I will say this kind of statement is bullshit but more and more recent developments at Apple makes it extremely hard to not agree with you.
  • Another dumb move by a company increasingly run by dummies. Dear apple: Once you start replacing devices with generic ones, you realize that you can do the same to your computers without too much fuss. have fun selling iPhones in a commoditized cell phone market. I have work to do.
  • I too will be very disappointed in the lack off an update to Time Capsule/Router/Express line. I have been waiting, because I am in need of new set!
    Not only that, but I am further disappointed that Apple has not made it officially known that they will no longer will be supporting the Apple Community in this arena. They owe it to our community to be able to switch over to new supplier and/or to purchase Apple product from the remaining stock with an understating that it is the end!
  • Very disappointing. I have literally not touched my time capsule since setup 5 years ago. Except once to move it. I have 3 computers autobackuping to the disk and i have an express inline to play music through my stereo. Of course it has saved my **** many times reincarnating lost documents, edited documents, etc. I was REALLY REALLY hoping that the next gen would support iPad access to the disk so I could replace my 2007 MBP and go iPad-only, but I have no place to store all my stuff (photos, movies, music, documents). I suppose there is a third-party app that enables this but it would have been great to have full iOS support built-in. I can still remember using the first gen airport base station with dialup so my wife and I could share the university dialup connection with her white 500 MHz iBook and my key lime iBook. What is going on Apple? Are you trying to lose customers? I have not used any wintel boxen in my entire life (except for 3 weeks at work before i got a mac) but it is becoming harder and harder to justify the mac expense when "it just works" no longer means "it works with everything in our ecosystem flawlessly". What ecosystem?
  • Gee, unless there's an accessory that qualifies as a dongle, Apple is not interested. I haven't felt so low since the Scully years.
  • Don't be down! There is a whole world out there. There are many, many more companies make great quality products that you haven't given a chance because they don't have your fruit of choice as the logo.
  • These days, most people use whatever router comes with their internet service. They have gotten good enough that I use Comcast and Uverse built in wifi myself. It's easy and cheap enough to get a NAS hard drive for your network. And portable bluetooth speakers are a dime a dozen. Apple knows their line of routers are pretty much obsolete.
  • I have used one for several years...absolutely never an issue. Now I am going to have to find a replacement in the near future when it finally becomes more obsolete. iMore, will you do a review for the best replacement routers for the sad Apple customers?
  • While you did half correct yourself in the same paragraph, I'd just like to point out the Extreme never had AirPlay, only the Express did.
  • I have had dlinks they have all died shortly after the warranty ran out.
    I have had netgears that worked quite well but all of them got flacky wireless connection after 1.5 -2 years.
    Then I went To Apple routers. They might not have been speed monsters but they have been incredible stable and I like the ease on how to maintain them.
    Then I bought a new time capsule and dreaded the work on setting it all up again. But what happened Apple automatically discovered the new router and asked If it should copy the settings to the new, 5 mins. Later my new router was up and running. That was the ultimate: "It just works". Never experienced that on any other router.
    Honestly what is going on? Have Apple started a collective suicide?
    It is the eco system that makes Apple Unique.
    An LG screen doesn't promote Apple.
    Magsafe feature has gone another unique feature.
    The new macbook Pro is priced outside normal users and built to alienate the "Pro" user.
    Dumbed down the mac mini
    No update of macpro - couldn't afford it anyway.
    And now we need third party routers Unless there are stuff going on they do not tell us about (As usual).
    Apple cables have always been everything else but durable and now we have to buy dongles for everything sometimes even the same dongle twice. One for mac and one for an ios device.
    Honestly APPLE you make it very difficult to be an Apple fanboy.
    Apple you may sell a lot of iphones without the rest of the eco system.
    But I really do not believe that counts for the rest of the stuff you make.
  • "Apple began shutting down the wireless router team over the past year, dispersing engineers to other product development groups..." Wait, what? Apple actually had employees working on their wireless routers? The ones that were last released more than 3 years ago? What exactly have these people been doing all this time?
  • Heh, I wondered the same thing. Parties over. Time to pack up.
  • They could've been working on an unreleased router, or testing built-in router function in other products (e.g. AppleTV). Things get stopped/reassigned all the time behind the scenes, it doesn't have to align with prouduct releases :)
  • I find this sad. The Airport router is my go to router in problem areas. The mesh networking just works in a way that none of those other hokey wifi repeaters can touch. I can put three Airport Extreme routers in a house where no other router works and not need to revisit it for years. I guess they need to fix Time Machine now so it works with other network drives (yes I know that you can make standard drives work with special formatting, if you dance a little command-line jig and do a little sudo wrestling).
  • There goes a product line..
    I have the AE Express (n) i've not used in 5 months. The only good thing i like about Apple's wireless stuff is their easy to set up, but the downside i hate is the lack of port forwarding on them.. Coming from someone who has a Billion they are more loaded with stuff, if u want/need it, and without needing to add something to the mix to just get internet access. When you know something doesn't get updated for 2+ years (or sometimes sooner) it's usually either Apple has 'moved on' or just waiting. The same happened with the Apple gold watch,, that didn't last too long either
  • Ok now that we all vented. Does macOS still let us use it as a hotspot? I kind of remember awhile back that I had my iMac hooked up via Ethernet and was able to share its wifi signal in my house as if it was a router.