Back in January 2007, Apple released its first version of the Airport Extreme. It was a wireless router that supported 802.11n of Wi-Fi and could be used as a print and storage server as well. But then in 2016, we saw Apple’s last version of the AirPort extreme, and it was fully off the shelves by 2018. Now, five years later, it seems like the only thing missing from Apple’s ideal HomeKit network would be a new AirPort router that uses things like HomePods as mesh points. Parker Ortolani shows us what the could ideally look like.
Apple’s HomeKit is ready
Apple has had a strong push into adoption for their HomeKit ecosystem, which is shown by their adoption of Matter as a new smart home standard. They figured that their computing devices already talk to each other so well that adding some smart home functionality would be the next logical step. Between hardware like the HomePod Mini, the revamped HomePod, and the Apple TV, and then services like the Home App, Private Relay, and iCloud end-to-end encryption, Apple seems set up to bring to market some sort of mesh network-based router that works perfectly within your Apple ecosystem and is extremely secure.
The 2023 AirPort concept
Ortolani put together some images of how this new AirPort router would fit into your current smart home. From a visual standpoint, it looks like it would fit right into the current Apple product language as it is sleek and nondescript and could be hidden away or blended easily into any environment. It also looks like its taking features from the HomePod and HomePod Mini with a touch-sensitive interface on the top of the router that would probably show different statuses of the Wi-Fi, show when Siri is active, and also seems like it would control the volume for the built-in speakers.
Powered by the A15
In the AirPort Concept, it seems that Parker believes the AirPort will run a unique version of iOS designed specifically for controlling home and office networks. All of this will be powered by the A15 chip that we currently see in the iPhone 13 lineup, the iPhone 14 and 14 plus, as well as the Apple TV 4k. This A15 chip will allow features like:
- Wi-Fi 6E
- iClould Private Relay
- Support for Matter accessories
- Simplified Setup
- Management of home and office mesh networks
I believe part of the reason Apple has been hesitant about getting back into router sales is that, firstly, they did not want the liability of having to secure their home or office network until they had figured out all of their security measures. Secondly, they saw Google attempt the mesh network protocol with a “simple and easy” setup process and that seems to have failed, so Apple wanted to be fully ready to take this one again.
Top comment by Imperial Union
I actually miss Apple routers. Still have 3TB Time Capsule as a second router that works great.
The idea for the mesh network is that using the new A15-powered AirPort, Apple could use the U1 and U2 chips in current Apple devices to create a mesh network that runs off of HomePods in your home network. This would be ideal if you live in a larger house that has a second floor and a basement, or if you live in a place with thick concrete walls where Wi-Fi signals begin to dampen. One question I have would be the range of the router as well as each HomePod mesh point. It would also be nice if Apple started making HomePods that included an Ethernet jack just in case someone wanted to wire into the mesh network. But overall this seems like a no-brainer; it would get expensive if you didn’t need HomePods and just wanted mesh points, but maybe Apple will create simple mesh points that are sold at a cheaper price than the $99 HomePod Mini.
Security & iCloud Private Relay
In the last few years, Apple has put a huge emphasis on security. Last year they launched Private Relay which is somewhat like a VPN, and then this year, they just announced that all of their iCloud apps are now end-to-end encrypted. This privacy-centric mentality will come down to the AirPort as well, so all of your traffic could be hidden by default.
I do believe that it is time for Apple to get back into the router product category; they have the necessary services in place to take over this market for Apple users. If we know one thing, it’s that Apple knows how to build a user-friendly ecosystem experience, and adding a mesh network Wi-Fi would be no different. Expect things like instant iCloud sign-in, sharing Wi-Fi with certain iCloud users, being able to add non-Apple devices easily, and an easy-to-use management app to see Wi-Fi speeds and manage any users on the network. These are all features Apple will make sure to master before bringing it forward. Or…
…Apple could just never make a router again. Let me know what you think with a comment below. Do you want a router made by Apple? Is $199 a good price for that? What would it need to do in order for this new AirPort to replace your current router setup? All I know is that I would love one!
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