What Occurred to Apple’s Router?

Once upon a time, Apple made Internet routers in addition to Macs, iPods, iPhones, iPads and many other devices.

The routers were called AirPorts, with the final iteration being the sixth generation AirPort Extreme. Apple's sixth generation AirPort Extreme was released in 2013, but the AirPort Extreme it and its AirPort brothers were officially retired in 2018.

How were these routers? Why did Apple stop making them? We have these answers and are here to share with you. Read on to find out the full story!

The early years of the Apple AirPort

The original AirPort base station was released in 1999 with an update in 2001 that added a second Ethernet port to the device.

Those first AirPort routers were round and had the Apple logo clearly visible along with three lights to show you how your connection was going.

Photo credit: Irvin Chen / Flickr

The first AirPort Extreme Base Station was released in 2003 and was the same shape as the original AirPort. However, an external antenna port and USB port were added to the device, and with its release, the first AirPort was discontinued.

New beginnings and AirPort Extreme generations

In 2004, Apple released a version of the AirPort Extreme that supports Power over Ethernet.

Related topics: What is Power over Ethernet (PoE) and what are the benefits?

At this point, the AirPort Extreme can be placed in ventilation rooms to allow up to 50 users to connect to the device at the same time.

In 2004 the AirPort Express was also released, a portable router that can also be used to play music, charge iPods and use printers wirelessly. The AirPort Express was updated in 2008 and redesigned in 2012. The AirTunes function preceded Apple's AirPlay functionality.

Photo credit: Daiji Hirata / Flickr

The AirPort Extreme was the primary router Apple worked and sold on. In 2007 the Extreme got a new design and this new square shape with rounded corners improved from an 802.11b / g radio standard to an 802.11a / b / g / n radio standard.

This new design has been called the first generation of the Extreme, the 2003 model is considered the "original". The second generation of the Extreme was released in 2007 and brought Gigabit Ethernet to the device.

Photo credit: Wesley Fryer / Flickr

An era of Apple AirPort Extreme updates

The third and fourth generations of the AirPort Extreme came out in 2009 and the fifth generation in 2011.

These models introduced antenna enhancements and the ability to use Time Machine, which allows users to back up an Apple computer to an external device.

This Time Machine feature mirrored the 2008 AirPort Time Capsule release. The Time Capsule was a router with a 500 GB or 1 TB hard drive. In 2011, the hard drive options included 2TB or 3TB options instead. A user can use the Time Capsule to wirelessly secure their Mac through Time Machine and use it to access the Internet.

The AirPort Time Capsule was redesigned in 2013, as was the sixth generation AirPort Extreme. This new tower model was rectangular and much larger than previous generations. The AirPort Express took the form of early Apple TV models in 2012.

Photo credit: Jiang Jiang / Flickr

End of the AirPort line

These 2012 and 2013 redesigns and updates gave the AirPort routers extra speed and additional USB ports. But it was also the last hardware update ever made to the AirPort routers.

In the end, the team that worked on the AirPort models was disbanded by Apple in 2016. It took Apple two years to stop manufacturing its routers, but they officially ended in 2018.

Did the AirPort line even stand out?

The simple answer to this question is no. Apple's AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, and AirPort Time Capsule were never bad routers – they had enough speed and connectivity that worked well in most homes – but they never stood out.

The problem was that the AirPort line pale in comparison to other routers on the market. Other routers were faster and offered improved speeds much earlier than the AirPort routers. True Apple-style AirPort routers were also more expensive than other routers with similar specifications.

The AirPort line had its advantages: it was ready to use right out of the box, and due to its relatively attractive design, having one visible in your home wasn't a thorn in the side.

Photo credit: _sarchi / Flickr

However, that wasn't enough to make the AirPort a best seller. A 2003 Apple press release shows the company sold only 150,000 Airport Extreme products in one quarter. The presence of the press release indicates that these were high numbers for the AirPort Extreme at the time.

A 2008 Apple Insider report showed the AirPort line was the top-selling 802.11n router for "five of the last nine months." However, this only applied to this type of router and not to Internet routers as a whole.

It makes sense that Apple decided to get out of the router game and focus on devices that sell better. But at least in the development of the AirPort Extreme and its various spin-offs, Apple has developed technologies that can be rolled over to its other devices.

The legacy of AirPort routers

The AirPort router line may be retired, but much of the technology Apple developed for it lives on in many other Apple devices.

AirPlay and other wireless technologies with Apple TV were born thanks to the work completed with the AirPort Express.

AirDrop and the exchange of files and data between Apple devices also have their origins here, as well as with the AirPort Time Capsule. Some Time Machine features can also be traced back to the Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme wireless backups.

The AirPort routers also live on physically. Apple doesn't make new ones, but there are still firmware updates you can get to keep them safe and functional. So if you still have an AirPort router, you can keep it running for a while.

However, it's still worth looking for alternatives to the AirPort routers. With newer technology, you can get better routers and even pay less for them.

Photo credit: othree / Flickr

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About the author

Jessica Lanman
(7 articles published)

Jessica has been writing technical articles since 2018 and loves to knit, crochet and embroider little things in her free time.

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By Jessica Lanman

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