RIP AirPort Base Stations: Why Apple is exiting the Wi-Fi router business

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'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.

Extreme, Express, and Time Capsule... but no mesh

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.)

Making tough choices

A while ago, when it seemed like Apple was exiting the display business as well as the Wi-Fi router business, I wrote about the horn effect and my concern that once people started buying non-Apple products, it would be easier to keep buying non-Apple products. In other words, the opposite of the halo effect.

Since then, Apple has said that it will be introducing a new, Pro-level display in 2019. That's important. The display is the face of the computer and if you stop seeing Apple logos there, it makes you wonder how much you really need to see them anywhere.

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?

No company, not even the world's richest and most successful, and especially not its most focused, can do everything. Tough choices have to be made. For a while now, Apple has been punting on those choices and leaving some products and their customers in limbo.

Now, it looks like Apple is starting to make those tough choices — committing to some, like pro displays, and cancel others, like routers. And it hurts, even if it's for the best.

What happens next

Apple and authorized resellers will continue to sell AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and AirPort Time Capsule while supplies last. Apple is also be helping customers obtain service and parts for current generation AirPort Base Stations for the next five years.

Over the next few weeks, Apple will also be posting knowledge-base articles to help customers transitioning away from AirPort products. iMore, of course, will be doing likewise.

If you have any comments or questions on Apple ending the AirPort Base Station, let me know.

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Rene Ritchie

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.