There’s a good chance the next time you buy a Wi-Fi basestation for you Mac, iPhone and iPad network it won’t come from Apple. The company reassigned the engineers from its wireless networking team to other projects and doesn’t have plans to continue developing its AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, and Time Capsule products.
The company hasn’t made an official announcement, but sources speaking with Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman say the wireless networking team has already disbanded. Considering Mr. Gurman’s track with insider Apple sources, Apple may as well offer up an official confirmation.
Dropping out of the wireless router game means at some point macOS and iOS device users will have to turn to other companies for access points to build their networks. For some users, that’s no big deal because they want features Apple doesn’t offer, but losing the easy setup we have today won’t sit well with others.
Apple’s software makes setting up AirPort products simple enough for novices, and once configured they tend to run without any need for maintenance. For the average user, Apple’s AirPort products are essentially appliances: they do their job without any need for interaction.
That said, Apple’s routers feel hobbled despite their high quality design. The company intentionally locked down settings and features for ease of use, leaving users who want more control over their wireless networks in the hands of competitors selling products at a much lower price.
While seeing the AirPort line fade away is kind of sad, it isn’t too surprising. Apple needed the AirPort BaseStation when it first introduced wireless networking with the original iBook so customers could build their networks. Now that Wi-Fi is firmly established, the need for Apple’s simple basestations is gone. The resources the company was putting into its routers can be better used somewhere else.
Still, it is concerning to see Apple walking away from yet another product. When Apple quietly killed off its stand alone display earlier this year, the future of the Mac Pro and Mac mini is in question, and last week we learned Sal Soghoian—the company’s automation and scripting manager—was let go.
The knee jerk reaction is that Apple is floundering can’t make anything anymore, and that this wouldn’t have happend if Steve Jobs were alive. The reality is that Steve was notorious for ruthlessly killing products that distracted from the company’s core vision, and the AirPort lineup very likely would’ve been cut if he were still here to run the company.
For now, the AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, and Time Capsule are still available at the Apple Store. And just like the Thunderbolt Display, they’ll quietly fade away as inventory dwindles and eventually Apple will promote another company’s wireless router instead.