Monday, November 21, 2016

Apple Abandons Development of Wireless Routers

Mark Gurman (Hacker News, MacRumors):

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 hasn’t refreshed its routers since 2013 following years of frequent updates to match new standards from the wireless industry.


Exiting the router business could make Apple’s product ecosystem less sticky. Some features of the AirPort routers, including wireless music playback, require an Apple device like an iPhone or Mac computer. If the company no longer sells wireless routers, some may have a reason to use other phones and PCs.

John Gruber:

The question is, are they really out of the router game (and will start selling Belkin or Eero routers in their stores), or are they working on something new, a HomeKit hub, that will include the functionality of a router?

Just seems like Apple is abandoning a lot of stuff without having replacements ready these days.

Nick Heer:

Back when Apple did the iPhone, it was partially because all cellphones sucked; now, all cellphones work similarly to iPhones. I’d like to think that they kept supporting their AirPort models for as long as they did because routers still suck. Look at the routers recommended by the Wirecutter: their picks have antennas sticking out and pointing everywhere, and really crappy web-based control panels. I’m not looking forward to the day that I need to replace my AirPort Extreme.

Mark Munz:

Apple working hard to convert its synergistic eco system into something more akin to PC/Android market of hodgepodge components.

Brent Simmons:

And when we start looking elsewhere, we customers who have been in the habit of just buying the Apple thing get in the habit of looking outside Apple for things.

I can’t help but think that it’s a kind of an anti-halo effect. I can’t help but think that once we start looking elsewhere, we’ll look elsewhere more and more. We’ll get used to it. We’ll find out that other companies make things that work and are, in some cases, delightful.

Jeff Johnson:

Wireless routers are not like external displays. Every major Apple device needs to connect to a wireless router. It’s essential.

Wade Cosgrove:

Apple seems to be running the company “by the numbers” lately. If they can’t sell X many millions of units at 40% profit they just kill it.

Or perhaps it’s a matter of attention and deploying their employees where they think they can make the most difference. In any case, it seems like this change will reduce the quality of the Mac and iOS experience. One issue is the ecosystem with technologies such as AirPlay, Back to My Mac, and Time Machine and the easy-to-use apps for configuration. Another is simply that AirPort was an easy choice. You pay a little extra, but you don’t have to do any research to be sure that it will work well. And you know that help is available from Apple.

On the plus side, lots of people seem to have great things to say about the Wi-Fi products from Eero and Ubiquiti.

Update (2016-11-21): Kirk McElhearn:

Frankly, it’s about time. They’ve been limping along, unable to keep up with new technology. I used to really like Apple’s AirPort hardware, but somewhere in the past few years, it started to suck. They never updated the AirPort Express for 802.11ac, making their hardware useless in any but the smallest setups.

This said, the AirPort Express is still a useful tool for people who want to stream music using AirPlay. I’d recommend buying one or two if you use it for that. I’m not aware of any other device – other than the Apple TV – that works like this.

Update (2016-11-22): Benjamin Mayo:

I hope that Apple evaluated the AirPort roadmap, decided there was little scope for improvement over the status quo, and then shuttered the division. Whether I believe that Apple could add value to the router space is irrelevant; I have to trust Apple is in the omniscient position here about its own lineup.

On the other hand, if AirPort development was cancelled simply because it ‘only’ made a few million dollars, I would be deeply disappointed. Accessories support the core products — it is unreasonable to expect them to make money. Apple has the privilege to make choices that aren’t constrained by financials. Abandoning products that don’t make money is what companies on the brink of bankruptcy do.

Tom Bridge:

I have yet to find a device that I like more than the current AirPort Express, just in terms of what it does: Home Router, Home Wi-Fi, AirPlay speaker, remotely managed. There isn’t anything I’ve found that is as easily-managed as the AirPort line is. But there are some good options[…]


None of the solutions above carry with it the user-friendly function-focus of the AirPort, and that makes me sad. But, new companies like eero and Luma are making wireless do things that Apple has decided not to do, and so the future lives with them, or with the professional access point manufacturers who work down market like UniFi and Xclaim (Ruckus). I think we’re in good hands, even if they’re not Apple’s.

Update (2016-11-27): See also: Core Intuition.

Dave Hamilton:

I’ve tested three currently-available mesh offerings: eero, Netgear’s Orbi and Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi. While they all solve the same problem in basically the same way, they each have strengths and weaknesses. If you’re finished reading and just want to buy, my TL;DR advice is that, at this very moment, I feel like eero is the best product to recommend to most users. That said, it’s worth watching what Netgear does with Orbi over the next six months. If they keep adding features to it, Orbi could easily take the lead due to its tri-band Wi-Fi hardware. Still, even today Orbi or AmpliFi might be right for you, and I’ve listed more than a few points of comparison to help you make your choice.

Update (2016-12-01): Joe Rossignol:

Apple ranks highest in customer satisfaction among wireless router manufacturers, according to a new study released by J.D. Power today.

The accolade comes just nine days after a report said Apple has ceased development of its AirPort routers and reassigned engineers working on the products to other teams. Apple continues to sell the AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and AirPort Time Capsule, last released in 2013, but future updates appear unlikely.

Colin Cornaby:

Apple has been on a cutting spree recently, sending display production outside of Apple, cutting the Airport base station line, and neglecting Mac desktops. It’s tempting to cut everything that isn’t a massive line of profit, but if Apple isn’t careful with their removal of supports, they’ll bring the whole house down on top of them.

See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

18 Comments RSS · Twitter

I've worried for a few years about Apple creating too many products (both software & hardware) and not being able to maintain them all properly. So I guess I can't be too angry with this decision. All the same, I've been a fan of their routers for years. As you said, they're much easier to setup than others, they're very reliable, and their Apple-specific features like automatic backups are great. It didn't bother me whether or not they had the latest wifi technology because wifi speeds long ago exceeded my needs (namely, being as fast as my internet connection). Ease & reliability, however, never stop mattering.

I'm also a heavy user of AirPlay. Bluetooth doesn't have the always-on discoverability of AirPlay, so it doesn't work as nicely for home stereo setups. And AppleTV requires a TV to be turned on. Which, if you want to play music and not watch TV, is a poor constraint. So I wonder what the replacement solution is going to be here.

"Or perhaps it’s a matter of attention and deploying their employees where they think they can make the most difference. In any case, it seems like this change will reduce the quality of the Mac and iOS experience. One issue is the ecosystem with technologies such as AirPlay, Back to My Mac, and Time Machine and the easy-to-use apps for configuration. "

As Nigel upthread, and Kirk McElhearn both note, the only thing here that is not replaceable is AirPlay. In fact, Kirk recommends stocking up on a couple of AirPort Expresses.

(Of course, if Apple stops selling AirPlay hardware, it seems likely they'll kill the feature in software in the near future anyway, so caveat emptor...)

Also, as far as that @colincornaby tweet you reference about opening up AirPlay, I really can't see that happening. The simple reason is that they don't want Amazon Fire TV, (or Roku or anyone else), to have access to casting capability from iOS devices in order to better outcompete Apple TV.

Most likely scenario is that they'll just come up with come proprietary casting solution, probably based on Bluetooth, that won't work nearly as well as AirPlay for the end-user, but at least won't let competitors have access to iOS casting.

Old Apple TVs are easy to recycle for AirPlay (I use a 3G one in my bedroom, not plugged into a TV). I used to use an old iPhone too, but after Apple forced Rogue Amoeba to neuter Airfoil Speakers it eventually stopped working. Sure would be nice if Apple would provide something similar to turn any old iOS device into an AirPlay receiver — they do something similar allowing iPads to be used for HomeKit remote access/automation in iOS 10.

Should also mention that Apple did license, and I believe still does license, the audio AirPlay protocol to third parties. A bunch of receivers and speakers supported/support it.

It's becoming obvious to me that I've been ignoring the writing on the wall with Apple for some time now. I can't believe they are falling so far behind on their non-iPhone products, especially things like Applescript and Wi-Fi routers which in the grand scheme of how much money they are making these days probably amounts to a rounding error.

How hard can it be to assign 8 or 10 dedicated programmers to Mac automation technology? And how many engineers would it take to keep their Airport products up to date with current protocols, since the hardware is already designed? Surely it's just a "simple" modification to keep it with current standards. It's not like they have to reinvent the wheel. And why the hell have we not seen any updates of Mac Pro or Mac Mini, not even a "simple" update to support faster processors and newer I/O in the same hardware? Since most of the design is probably already done for the iMac and Macbook line, they can just "port" it over to the other Macs? Again, no need to reinvent things, just keep them current.

With the focus on spending money and talent on designing a car, and making a TV show about Dr Dre's life (WTF?), and giving products gold color options (I never see anyone with a gold iPhone), partnering with luxury brands that sell overpriced fashion products (who cares), and making an Apple Watch that costs $10,000 (how many did they sell? Five?)... why are they catering to these niches, but not the Pro niche of users who kept the company alive for years and are the type of users who will have 10 different Apple products in their home or office? When iPhone stops being their #1 seller, and they have abandoned the Mac for years, and nobody has a reason to use Apple anymore, what then?

I would guess that most people who use AirPlay have built-in AirPlay in their speakers.

Apple's routers were pretty competitive for the first decade or so, but particularly in recent years, they've really fallen behind. For a wireless router, ease-of-use is just not as important as how well it actually works for the years *after* you've set it up, and Apple failed to deliver in that regard. Also, most people probably have wifi built into the box they get from their Internet provider.

Or a few other things. What's the point of HomeKit or Car Play in the grand scheme of things? Home automation is not yet here on a large scale, and it basically requires re-purchasing every appliance in your home. Sure it might be fun for the 1% who can afford it. But it's not something that benefits large portions of Apple's customer base (at least I can't see how. I'm fairly techy/nerdy and I don't see a compelling reason to get into home automation. Then again, I prefer 2 speakers and a turntable...). Same for Car Play. It's only available on what, maybe 10 different cars? (not 10 brands, 10 actual car models) And it's been out for what, 2+ years? And how many people buy a new car every year anyway?

Seems like iPod Touch is a goner, too. Why not keep making them? Surely they sell. I know lots of parents who buy them for their kids, because they don't want a full iPhone. And the development costs can't be too much since it's really just an iPhone with the cell modem removed.

One last thing to illustrate how much Apple just doesn't give a fuck:

When was the last time they ever updated the Equalizer settings on the iPhone? That shit is carried over from the original goddamn iPod. And all of the presents are AWFUL except perhaps Acoustic. If they actually gave a fuck, they would have given us a 16 band equalizer that is user-adjustable, with built-in presets that don't sound like garbage. And it would be able to apply to all audio output, not just the Music app. This would take, what, one programmer a single day (or two) to implement?

I swear, I sometimes really believe that Apple execs don't truly use some of their products, they're so buggy now and some features are forgotten or work only half-ass. Then when users and developers try to tell them about the bugs, we have to enter them into a shitty website that looks like it hasn't been updated in 8 years, is slow to load, and gives no way to search a database of bug reports to see if our bug was already submitted. Then if you do get a reply, it's vague, and they never tell you if or when your bug will be fixed. It's such a black hole, they don't even care.

One last fine point: I have seen more iPod Touch (10+ but probably a lot more that I didn't realize weren't iPhones) and Mac Mini (5+) in the past 3 years than I have seen Apple TV (3), Apple Watch (5), or cars that support Car Play (zero) – compared to several dozen iPads and hundreds upon hundreds of iPhones. I'm not saying my one observation is representative, but when I see Apple abandon products that I know people use, and focus on ones that I rarely if ever see anyone using, it makes no sense to me.


I always thought Apple was ignoring an obvious win by not making custom EQ settings something that could be shared and distributed. Headphone and speaker vendors could provide EQ settings tuned to their products, which customers could use or customize.

There are so many places where a small effort could provide a nice unexpected hit of delight for the user. A new screen saver. A new beep sound. Some new wallpapers that aren't keyed to the name of the OS.

TBH an unexpected, cool new beep sound could mean a lot more to me than the parallax wallpaper on the iPhone.

I wonder if Apple's cutting things because their car project didn't work out so well, and (speculating) because their edifice complex is coming in way over budget.

Oh, the latest Apple TV isn't very good as an Airplay audio target. Apple ditched the optical output, so the only way to output audio is through HDMI. If you have an HDMI-equipped receiver handy, that may work out okay. Otherwise you'll need a TV, and the TV probably needs to be turned on.

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Who bought Apple routers? Who exactly was the market for them? Your consumer ISP hands you a free ADSL router/cable modem when you sign up for broadband; even fits it for you. Or, if you're a business of any size, IT purchases something with grunt that fits in their rack.

Who buys a router to wow her friends and lift her social standing?

100% commoditized behind-the-couch nothing box. Configure and forget = the two things Apple does *not* want to sell. Not an Apple *Product* at all.

Only question y'all *do* need to ask: How on Earth was Apple asleep so long?

Still using Time Capsule bought years ago. It can probably be replaced by an external hard drive plugged into my provider's router? Not sure how reliable Time Machine is in that setup. I don't want to have to think about it, and I would rather pay for the hardware Apple has tested.

So not as big a deal as other things they abandoned, but that's... one more thing.

@charles Not sure whether things are better now, but I think at one point the Time Capsule had special software to allow Time Machine to work safely over a network drive.

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