The Overdue Demise of the Apple Airport

I have a complicated history with the Apple Airport. For years I’d buy whatever Netgear router was on sale and bumble my way through their web interface to get it set up and semi-configured. Those routers had a unique combination of ugliness, cryptic user interface, and spotty performance to make them a product I’d love to hate. I had notes on how to nuke the router settings and start from scratch, which you needed to do every month. I even had installed a cable hook in the router closet that you could hang the power cord on when you did the obligatory power cycle a few times a week to keep it running.

Then about ten years ago I’d had enough and decided to buy an Airport. It was more expensive, but better in every way. It looked attractive and was easy to configure. Best of all, it worked. For years the Airport and I got along swell, but as my kids grew up and we started putting even more demand on the wireless network, the Airport had trouble keeping up. Apple didn’t seem too interested in updating the device, and I discovered my kids were burning through our cellular data because the WiFi wasn’t getting to their bedrooms.

Then two years ago, we had Clayton Morris on MPU, and he started singing the praises of his mesh network EERO system. I ordered mine a few minutes after we finished recording the show.

For me, the mesh networking EERO was the same caliber upgrade as when we went from Netgear to Airport. EERO’s user interface leapfrogged Apple, and the mesh networked WiFi works way better in my house. (EERO later became an occasional MPU sponsor.)

For the last year, every time I went into an Apple store and saw the Airport on the shelf, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the person who was going to buy that without knowing they could get a much better network with a non-Apple product. I figured Apple was either working on their own mesh solution or they were going to abandon the product entirely. It turns out the latter was true. Last week Apple officially pulled the plug on the Airport. I think they made the right choice. The Airport was a great product in its time, but unless Apple is willing to spend a bunch of time and money, the existing Airport feels antiquated. Moreover, a lot of the mesh network vendors got the memo about making their products reliable, attractive, and easy to use so Apple would no longer be the unique snowflake even if they went all in on a mesh-based Airport.

So what does that mean for you? If you’ve got an Airport and it’s working, you’re fine. No need to upgrade. I’m sure Apple will continue to support the Airport for years. However, if you are looking for a new WiFi network, I recommend getting a mesh network system from a reputable vendor. Jason Snell wrote up several good alternatives. If you are upgrading to mesh, I think you’re in for a nice surprise.