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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.com, 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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
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.

29 Comments
  • I am sad about this. I love both of my AirPort Expresses(2012) . They work reliably as a mesh & have AirPlay built in. Plus the Airport Utility app is much more reliable & less complicated than Web UIs.
    In the future , I plan to upgrade to Airport Extremes for AC WiFi & keep these 2 for extending my mesh network.
  • with no qos it’s crap as a main router. as to the backing up automatically and doing that at a higher speed that would be the saving grace. a backup on a 1tb macbook pro 2013 took like 4 days; it was complete like open the lid and you are right back but that time frame of the restore to a maxed out mbp 2017 is crazy.
  • Well, here you have it, America. The next generation speaks and woe is us.
  • There is something wrong if takes 4 days.
  • I have an AirPort Express from 2008, another from 2012, and a Time Capsule from 2010 or so. All still work flawlessly, and easily cover my 3,500 square foot house, no fancy mesh routers required. With built-in AirPlay I use the two Expresses to power non-wireless speaker systems as easily and with likely better sound than a HomePod, and Siri-them up from my iPhone. None of this will be as easy with non-Apple equipment, and even as old as they are, I've never felt they were slow. This is indeed a sad day.
  • I agree that apple is getting very narrow in their offerings, but there's also a cop out here. Mesh networking is not really interesting technology if its technology at all. It's a fad feature marketed at PC users who have tons of WIFI issues due to their crappy operating system and crappy wifi hardware. Airport hardware simply never drops connections and you can use one thats on the floor under a piece of furniture and get signal everywhere in a 4000 sq foot house with no issues. This is a known thing that these routers are the best. So mesh or not Apple is taking the best wifi router off the market. I will probably by an airport express just to have one.
  • Lol
  • Totally agree. Airport works fine. It just needed to be updated! MORE THAN EVER, we are counting on Apple for privacy and secure communications and I don't care how much trouble it is - Apple has let its customers down in a serious way, here. Erro (that's deliberate) requires storing your network password in the cloud - something NOBODY discusses. The state of wifi is not good. Home-things are insecure, unless they only use HomeKit (I believe). More than ever… Apple let us down. And Back-To-My-Mac actually worked on Airport, just worked. If that worked, you wouldn't need dropbox or iCloud, you could always get to your files, wherever you are. Apple makes me sad.
  • That's a good point. Apple needs to bolster HomeKit, but lost an opportunity by cancelling routers. All these 3rd part IoT are terrible including Phillips Hue bridge. It's garbage and Apple could have added some functionality to a new Airport. Why not add it to HomePod or AppleTV.
  • Very sad. I don't like this new Apple and don't support Tim Cook at all.
    Such an essential component of internet connection and home network, even for existing Apple products, that was neglected for years and now officially halted.
  • I don't mind the new Apple, but I don't like that they've stopped making routers. These were great products that were easy to use and worked very well, as well as lasting for years and years
  • I've lived in this walled garden for a while now, and I just can imagine putting in new WiFi. I remember the nightmares of updating in the past. Got really used to the auto updates over the years. Is it any better now-a-days outside these walls? Do I have to go to an IP address to update my router? Nooooooooo!
  • There are routers mentioned in comments below that work similar to Apple's. They use a modern mobile app to configure the router, and have auto-updates.
  • I don't trust 3rd party solutions. They are never easy to manage, have timely updates or reliable. Plus we lose the Apple design. It's a complete mistake by Apple. Airports were so good, I always recommended to people. I hate dealing with router settings.
  • That is just not true anymore. There are quite a lot of products out there, which outperforms Apple is this area, which are dead easy to set up. I suggest you look at Amplifi from Ubiquiti!
  • So far as I can tell, there are no third party equivalents of a Time Capsule or for that matter an AiportExpress - a WiFi router and TOSLink audio output with AirPlay support. I already grabbed a spare Time Capsule because the fan of my old one died recently. And yes, Back To My Mac support also.
  • I don't really think any of these products was the best Apple could deliver. I have struggled with instability, problems updating the firmware, bugs that were never corrected, etc. Also buying 2 TB of storage and not being able to use them for anything but backup is a bit insane. I got so fed up with the whole thing, that I switched to Unifi from Ubiquiti (https://www.ubnt.com/products/#unifi). Dead easy to set up, stable as a rock and very very fast. And all of it just works. If you don't have any cablings, then I can recommend Amplifi (https://amplifi.com) which is also a Ubiquiti product. These guys really know what they are doing! For backup, I suggest having a closer look at Arq (https://www.arqbackup.com) I use iCloud (which Apple finally got working sensibly) for all documents, and backups the whole lot (programming projects, documents, etc) with Arq to Amazon S3 (which is incredibly cheap)
  • QUESTION What "just works" wirelessly with Time Machine? I got 2013 MacBook Air in 2014, my first Mac. It took me a year or two to figure it out and learn what Time Machine even was. By then the latest Time Capsule was 3 years old and I figured a new one would be out soon and cash was tight, so I waited. Now it's too late. In the meantime, the Mac mini no longer has dual (it would be stupid to put an OS and backups on the same drive) or even replaceable drives, it's ancient. I almost got a Synology since I used them at work, but I question their reliability, especially after Viticci's died recently. (I think of that as a bad omen. He actually is getting a Mac mini to use as a server.) So, now what, get an iMac and an external drive enclosure? Hackintosh? Router with external drive enclosure? O.o; None of these are "just works" options.
  • The Apple Airport line of routers are the only brand of routers that I haven't seen fail before my eyes; they really do just work...almost forever, it seems. And the Airport Utility is so user-friendly that even my parents can set up their own Apple router. This is a shame, and a real loss to the industry.
  • It is a shame, but things have changed since 10 years ago, there are now routers that provide a quick and easy setup too providing you know where to look. There are some good suggestions in these comments
  • I let my last Airport router go when I moved into my new house. They were great but this is obviously not where Apple wants or needs to be. I'm currently using the WiFi Router supplied by AT&T with my GigaPower Internet while I decide what direction I will take my home network. I am leaning towards a NightHawk but Mesh is in the mix as well.
  • I've had great signal coverage from my Apple routers over the years, especially the latest Time Capsule. They're also super easy to set up and get working. But I'm especially sad to see these go because security vulnerabilities that hit almost every other brand of router in recent years didn't affect Apple's products.
  • What replaces Apples Time Capsule Apple has let us down after I bought into Apples complete system
  • Get a Nighthawk router, plug in an external hard drive and - BOOM! - great router with Time Machine backups. It's really not that difficult, and it's a much better router than Apple ever offered.
  • It's truly SAD to see one of the best routers I've ever used to just slowly being taken away. I first got an Airport Express and let me tell you that I've never had an issue setting it up or drop signals as I have with any other router I've used. I still might just get another one or a Time Capsule since thats the only one I'm missing. The product just WORKS and works pretty darn well too! RIP to my fellow routers and my condolences to you Apple.
  • Saddened by this. With the Airport Utility app this was easy to setup and monitor. Started with an AirPort Extreme and added two Airport Express units to repeat. Don’t have a dead zone anywhere at home.
  • Hey Rene, Would love to see a review of Time Capsule set up alternatives if you can. Thanks!
  • If Apple were to give up and do away with all the products they have ignored and left unupdated for the past 4-6 years, they would have quite a bit less product to sell in their stores. The Mac Pro, MacBook Air, and the Mini should also be taken off shelves as supply runs out if you apply the same rules as with the routers. I am an Apple fan, but when I go to my local Apple Store, I mainly see the same products and models that have been on those tables, being sold at the same price, even though they contain internals that have not changed in years. Building the new headquarters building over the past several years has caused Apple to call a halt to pretty much all product development, and I hope they come out of this hiatus soon.
  • Yet another foolish decision by Michael Spindler, I mean Tim Cook.