How-ToTech

What Happened to Apple’s Router?

Once upon a time, in addition to Macs, iPods, iPhones, iPads, and many other devices, Apple also made internet routers. The routers were called AirPorts, with the last iteration of them being the sixth generation AirPort Extreme.

Apple’s sixth-generation of the AirPort Extreme was released in 2013, but the AirPort Extreme and its AirPort brethren were officially discontinued in 2018.

What were these routers like? Why did Apple stop making them? We have these answers, and we’re here to share them with you.

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. These first AirPort routers were round, showing the Apple logo quite prominently, along with three lights to show how your connection was doing.

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The first AirPort Extreme Base Station came out in 2003 and had the same shape as the original AirPort. However, it added an external antenna connector and a USB port 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 its AirPort Extreme Base Station Wi-Fi router that supported Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology. At this point, the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station could be placed in air-handling spaces to allow up to 50 users to connect to the device at once.

2004 also saw the release of the AirPort Express, a portable router that could also play music, charge iPods, and allow printers be used wirelessly. The Apple AirPort Express saw an update in 2008 and a redesign in 2012, and its AirTunes feature preceded Apple’s AirPlay functionality.

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The AirPort Extreme remained the primary Wi-Fi router Apple worked on and sold. In 2007, the AirPort Extreme was given a new design, and this new square shape with rounded corners saw improvements from a 802.11b/g wireless standard to a 802.11a/b/g/n wireless standard.

This new design was labeled the first generation of the Apple AirPort Extreme, the 2003 model considered the “original” that kept Base Station as part of its name. The second generation of the AirPort Extreme Apple router was released in 2007, and this brought Gigabit Ethernet to the device.

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An Era of Apple AirPort Extreme Updates

The third and fourth generations of the AirPort Extreme both came out in 2009, and the fifth generation came out in 2011. These models introduced antenna improvements and the ability to use Time Machine, which let users back up an Apple computer to an external device.

This Time Machine capability reflected the 2008 release of the AirPort Time Capsule. The Time Capsule was an Apple router with a built-in 500GB or 1TB hard drive. In 2011 the hard drive options included 2TB or 3TB options instead. Someone could use the Time Capsule Apple Wi-Fi router to back up their Mac wirelessly via Time Machine, as well as use it to access the internet.

The AirPort Time Capsule got the same redesign as the sixth-generation Apple AirPort Extreme in 2013. This new tower model was rectangular and much larger than previous generations. The AirPort Express, meanwhile, took on the shape of early Apple TV models in 2012.

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End of the Apple AirPort Router Line

These 2012 and 2013 redesigns and updates added speed and additional USB ports to the Apple AirPort Wi-Fi routers. But they were the last hardware updates ever made to the AirPort routers as well.

In the end, the team that worked on the various AirPort base stations and models was disbanded by Apple in 2016. It took two years for Apple to stop producing its Wi-Fi routers, but they were officially discontinued in 2018.

So Did the AirPort Line Stand Out at All?

The simple answer to this question is no. Apple’s AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, and AirPort Time Capsule products were never bad Wi-Fi routers—they had sufficient speed and connectivity, so they worked well in most households—but they never stood out.

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

The Apple Wi-Fi router line had its advantages, though: each AirPort model was easy to set up right out of the box, and its relatively attractive design meant it wasn’t an eyesore to have one visible in your home.

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But this wasn’t enough to make the AirPort Extreme or other AirPort routers best sellers. A 2003 press release from Apple shows that 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 Apple AirPort Extreme at the time, despite paling in comparison to other Apple product sales.

A 2008 report from Apple Insider showed the AirPort Wi-Fi router line was the top-selling 802.11n router for “five of the last nine months,” but that was for just that router type, not internet routers as a whole.

With many great alternatives to the AirPort routers on the market, it makes sense that Apple decided to get out of the router game and focus on devices that sell better. But at least in developing the Apple AirPort Base Station, the AirPort Extreme Base Station and its various spinoffs, Apple created tech that could carry over to its other devices.

The Legacy of Apple AirPort Wi-Fi Routers

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

AirPlay—and other wireless technology with the Apple TV—came about thanks to work completed with the AirPort Express router. AirDrop and the sharing of files and data between Apple devices has its origins here, too, as well as with the AirPort Time Capsule. Some Time Machine functionalities can be traced to the Time Capsule and Apple AirPort Extreme wireless backups, too.

The AirPort routers also physically live on. Apple isn’t making new ones, but there are still firmware updates you can get for them to keep them secure and functioning. So if you still have an Apple AirPort Wi-Fi router, you can keep it going for a while longer.


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