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Look no further than the Apple TV.
Some may have forgotten that Apple even had a router unit. Apple last updated its AirPort Extreme router back in 2013, and while it (and two other Apple routers) are still on sale, they’re rarely at the center of Apple-focused conversation or speculation. Compared to the iPhone or a MacBook, routers just aren’t that hot—or, for many of us, purchased nearly as often.
The timing of this news is curious, however. Apple’s longtime competitor Google has just recently gotten into the Wi-Fi router game with Google OnHub and the soon-to-be-released Google WiFi. Startups such as Gryphon and Eero are also tackling the space, making routers easier to use (through app-based controls) and more effective in our modern homes and family environments.
It’s unusual to see Apple, as a consumer hardware area like this is beginning to gain traction and excitement, move out of the space entirely.
Instead, we think Apple may be doing what it does best: taking a step back, and then in a few years’ time, reentering the space with an option that crushes the competition. To do this, it may not need a dedicated router at all—it could instead build router technology into a product that already sits centrally in your living room, the Apple TV.
Given that at least a handful of Apple’s past router team is reportedly now working on the set-top box, it’s certainly possible they could be continuing their work, just in a different, and perhaps smaller, context. The timing also fits: Apple revamped its Apple TV unit for the first time in several years last fall, so we wouldn’t expect a major upgrade there for at least a year or two. And given Apple’s focus on making connectivity and computing as simple as possible (regardless of your opinion on how good of a job they’re doing), it feels odd that Apple wouldn’t want to control this essential part of the home internet experience—especially in an age when our digital liberties may be threatened.
For now, this is purely speculation. Given that the Apple TV utilizes Wi-Fi, it makes sense that some of Apple’s router engineers would be reassigned there, iFixit’s Kay-Kay Clapp told the Daily Dot via email. As for whether a hybrid Apple TV and an Airport base station is in the works as well, there’s no concrete evidence.
If, going forward, Apple is zeroing in on the areas consumers care about most, and garner the most profits, then perhaps the company truly has ditched its router business for good. (It has, after all, also reportedly eliminated its standalone monitor business.) But, if the company does still have ambitions to win over your living room and ensure your iPhone, iPad, and MacBook all connect to the internet, and to one another, flawlessly, there could be something more from Apple in the works in the future, either with the Apple TV, or something entirely different.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.