Although not as exciting many other Apple products, the AirPort line of wireless routers have been a popular home networking solution among Macintosh enthusiasts ever since Apple’s graphite-colored flying saucers first entered our airspace.
Over the years the design of Apple’s wireless base stations has evolved from the organic to the geometric, with the promise of more ports, faster data, or better reception being the usual alibi.
The motivation behind this year’s AirPort Extreme redesign is no different.
Although the promised speeds of 802.11ac may elude most consumers for the foreseeable future, Apple is once again redesigning the AirPort Extreme to meet the needs of today’s latest wireless technology.
With three-stream 802.11ac technology, the AirPort Extreme Base Station takes Wi‑Fi speeds over the top. Now you can reach data rates of up to 1.3 Gbps — triple the previous 802.11n standard.
It is a shame this speed is limited to the latest MacBook Airs, but more devices will follow.
Expect 802.11ac to be featured in next-generation iOS devices.
Simultaneous dual-band support
AirPort Extreme features simultaneous dual-band 802.11ac Wi‑Fi. That means it transmits at both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies at the same time.
By isolating older 802.11b/g devices on their own 2.4GHs network, the new AirPort Extreme keeps your network running faster for everyone connected.
With 802.11ac technology comes the intelligent, powerful beamforming antenna array. Most base station antennas emit an equal and constant Wi‑Fi signal in all directions. But the beamforming antenna array is smarter — it knows where an 802.11ac device is on the network. Then AirPort Extreme targets its signal to that device. So your Wi‑Fi signal is stronger, clearer, and faster.
Think of the new AirPort Extreme as the Hunter-Killer of wireless technology.
Despite all of the new technology on the inside, the first thing you will notice about the new AirPort Extreme is its striking perpendicular orientation on the outside.
For the all-new design of AirPort Extreme, we took an approach that centered around performance. We made it taller and put the antennas at the top, creating a higher platform for dispersing the signal.
Gone are the days of ground-hugging stunted domes, squat squares, or over-grown wall plugs.
Inspired by the vertical design of the new Mac Pro, today’s AirPort Extreme is a high-reaching desktop skyscraper, which claims a 64% smaller footprint than its predecessor.
With its white plastic enclosure removed, you might even confuse the new AirPort Extreme for a miniture Mac Pro Tube.
In addition to the vertical orientation, both designs share a similar set of heatsinks, a single cooling fan, and a elegant arrangement of ports running up the back.
Although you won’t find Thunderbolt connectivity or white LED accent lighting on the new AirPort Extreme, you will find the same attention to detail shared among all Apple products.
Let’s call it the “Jony Ive Connection.”
The new AirPort Extreme is an evolutionay upgrade for those of us with the new MacBook Air, looking to use the latest technology.
For everyone else it is an interesting desktop ornament that requires new hardware to fully apprecaite its state-of-the-art wireless technology.
Although Apple claims the vertical departure from the previous AirPort Extreme’s six-year-old design was choosen for better reception, I tend to think it was a cost cutting measure.
The new AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule share the same enclosure along designed around the same 3.5 inch hard drive.
The added price of the Time Capsule gets you nothing more than said drive, and the cables needed to connect it.
Saving Apple millions on duplicate parts.
In the era of Post-PC computing I would like to see an AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule that do more than just desktop backup and wireless networking.
A central household cache for iTunes streaming, App Store downloads, and iCloud backups would be a great start.
Maybe next year we will see another vertically oriented white box that does just that.