Apple’s announcement that it is discontinuing its AirPort product line wasn’t exactly a surprise. As we noted earlier, Bloomberg reported back in 2016 that Apple had disbanded the team responsible for its wireless routers, and we first spotted the company selling third-party ones.
But while it isn’t a surprise, I do think it’s the wrong decision – and a particularly ill-timed one …
Apple was one of the first companies to recognize that accessing the Internet had become the primary reason for a consumer to buy a personal computer. It not only marketed the iMac with this in mind, but that was how the model got its name. That naming convention was, of course, what led to the iDevice branding for iBook, iPod, iPhone and iPad.
Apple is also all about the ecosystem. Devices and services that all work together seamlessly. Routers – while not a sexy product – were part of that end-to-end Apple experience.
I recognize the economic argument, of course. These days everyone gets a free WiFi router from their ISP. Probably a relatively small number of people bother to buy a separate one, and only some of those buy an Apple one. But there are six counter-arguments.
First, I think an Apple router is like an Apple monitor. Most people might not want one, but for those who do, it’s an important part of their overall setup. It’s not good enough for Apple to shrug and say that it’s not a sufficiently profitable product line. The company needs to support those customers who want an end-to-end Apple setup because they are the most loyal and profitable customers.
Second, this would be the absolute perfect time for Apple to create a killer product. Think about how easy it is to set up a HomePod. Imagine a router which was that easy: switch it on, bring your iPhone within range and have it copy across your existing WiFi settings, offering to replicate them. Ten seconds later, switch off your old router and you’re online without any settings changes to any of your connected devices.
Third, we live in an age when security has to be a concern for everyone. A no-brand router made in China with unknown firmware is a risk, especially in the age of smart homes. A rogue router potentially has the ability to allow access to everything from your heating system to your front door lock. With Apple firmware, we can be pretty confident it’s secure.
Fourth, with AirPlay 2 on its way, the ability to use AirPort Express units to bring that capability to existing HiFi systems has never been more useful.
Fifth, Apple’s combination of AirPort products means that it was perfectly positioned to offer a mesh WiFi system. These are rapidly becoming a must-have for larger homes (and even for smaller ones – the long-and-thin layout of our apartment means we use an AirPort Express as a range-extender, and plan to switch to a mesh WiFi system). Apple already had the combination of AirPort Extreme, Time Capsule and Airport Express formats that would have been ideal for a mesh setup.
Finally, there is also huge opportunity for Apple to combo products. A mesh router which is also a HomeKit hub is an obvious one. As is a HomePod three-in-one product: add mesh router capabilities and it becomes a speaker, HomeKit hub and router in one. Similarly, an Apple TV with the option of mesh router capabilities would work for those whose Internet and TV feeds come into the home at the same place.
For all these reasons, I think Apple should be revitalising its AirPort products, not discontinuing them. What about you? As always, please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments.