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.

The Sad State of the Apple Airport

Remember when the Apple Airport was the best home WiFi solution? I sure do. I had a series of terrible routers and finally spent the money on an Airport. The system tools were easy to use and the WiFi was substantially better in my house. But still not perfect.

Last year I started using the Eero Mesh networking routers (Disclosure: they’re an occasional MPU sponsor) and my home WiFi made one of those leaps in technology that makes all nerds so happy. Everything got much better and my family now has stopped pestering me about dodgy WiFi.

Meanwhile, the Airport lingers. We’ve even heard reports that the Airport team inside Apple has been disbanded. The latest penny to drop is the fact that Apple is now selling the Linksys mesh networking system (called “Velop”) in Apple stores. I’ve never used the LInksys system but I’d bet that a mesh networking system from any reputable vendor is going to run circles around the Apple Airport. Nevertheless, the Airport still sits on the shelves of Apple Stores and unknowing customers are still buying the inferior system every day.

I’d argue that given the superiority of mesh networking, Apple either needs to improve the Airport line to also provide mesh networking or kill it altogether. I know this creates issues for the Time Capsule feature but I expect they could find a way around that. (Perhaps making it a network utility instead of a router.) Either way, home WiFi has made a significant jump over the last few years and unknowing Apple customers that expect the Airport to still be the best are missing out.