Why Apple’s AirPort “Extreme” is No Substitute for the AirPort Express…

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Date: Monday, March 5th, 2007, 08:00
Category: Opinion
airport80211n.jpg

Contributed by Michael Long
While browsing around at my local Apple store I happened to see one of Apple’s new AirPort Extremes sitting on a shelf. Needless to say, I whipped out my credit card and snapped it up.
Why? Mostly for the USB disk drive sharing. I use a 17″ Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro as my primary computer, and I’m forever dragging a hard drive out of the closet and plugging it in my computer to do backups, then unplugging it and putting it away again. As such, being able to schedule automated wireless backups–and at 802.11n speeds–sounded like just the ticket. Not to mention that I’d be set for Leopard and Time Machine when they’re released this spring.
I’m no stranger to wireless networking. In fact, I already had an Airport Express in my office and used it as a wireless substation, as my primary printer connection, and even had a set of “Creature” speakers plugged into it for streaming my ‘tunes. With everything plugged into the Express, the only wire sneaking across my desk was the notebook’s MagSafe power cord. I even had a wireless Bluetooth Mighty Mouse. Life in Apple-land was sweet, clean, and uncluttered. Dock? Who needs a dock?
Now, some of you already may have picked up on the problem but I, unfortunately, was still oblivious. I unplugged my Express, plugged in the new Extreme, plugged in a USB hub so I could use both the hard drive and the printer, and then started to plug in my speakers…
Only to find out that the AirPort “Extreme” doesn’t have a mini-phone jack for audio. Power, USB, WAN, LAN, that little slot you use to make sure someone doesn’t steal it… but no headphone jack.
Click the jump for the full story…

airport80211n.jpg

While browsing around at my local Apple store I happened to see one of Apple’s new AirPort Extremes sitting on a shelf. Needless to say, I whipped out my credit card and snapped it up.
Why? Mostly for the USB disk drive sharing. I use a 17″ Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro as my primary computer, and I’m forever dragging a hard drive out of the closet and plugging it in my computer to do backups, then unplugging it and putting it away again. As such, being able to schedule automated wireless backups–and at 802.11n speeds–sounded like just the ticket. Not to mention that I’d be set for Leopard and Time Machine when they’re released this spring.
I’m no stranger to wireless networking. In fact, I already had an Airport Express in my office and used it as a wireless substation, as my primary printer connection, and even had a set of “Creature” speakers plugged into it for streaming my ‘tunes. With everything plugged into the Express, the only wire sneaking across my desk was the notebook’s MagSafe power cord. I even had a wireless Bluetooth Mighty Mouse. Life in Apple-land was sweet, clean, and uncluttered. Dock? Who needs a dock?
Now, some of you already may have picked up on the problem but I, unfortunately, was still oblivious. I unplugged my Express, plugged in the new Extreme, plugged in a USB hub so I could use both the hard drive and the printer, and then started to plug in my speakers…
Only to find out that the AirPort “Extreme” doesn’t have a mini-phone jack for audio. Power, USB, WAN, LAN, that little slot you use to make sure someone doesn’t steal it… but no headphone jack.
Now, I probably should have realized that nowhere on Apple’s site does it say that the AirPort Extreme supports streaming music to a set of speakers, but I was truly blind-sided by my errant assumption that an Extreme could do everything an Express could do, and more.
Though, when you get right down to it, why would the more advanced version of the Express NOT support streaming audio? Why would Apple’s engineers remove such a useful feature? Is the Extreme supposed to be some sort of “pro” device devoid of such consumer-grade frills?
Or is the answer to the riddle the Apple TV? Do they want consumers to pay an extra $299 for an Apple TV, just so you can stack the two together to get a single “device” capable of being a base station and letting you listen to your music? And, to be fair, TV. They did design them to be the same size, after all.
Then again, for the price of both of them you could almost buy a mini and set it up as a server… except a mini isn’t really designed to be a wireless base station, doesn’t have the extra LAN ports, doesn’t support streaming audio to it, and hasn’t yet been upgraded with the 802.11n hardware.
Are we supposed to have both an Extreme and an Express in the same room, just so you can plug in a pair of speakers? Or do we buy a pair of USB speakers and hope that, sometime in the future, Apple upgrades the AirPort Extreme’s firmware to support them?
Now I’m faced with a choice: Take back the Extreme or not? No music or no hard drive? Wait for an upgrade? Or do I regress backwards in time and… horror of horrors, drag another cord across my desk and plug it in [shudder] manually, each and every time I come in with my notebook?
At any rate, if, like me, you’ve been considering upgrading from an Express to an Extreme, just keep in mind that the feature set is different, and that your upgrade may be anything but…
Contributed by Michael Long

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