AirPort Express Adds AirPlay 2 Support

29 August 2018

9to5Mac:

Apple’s AirPort line may be discontinued, but AirPort Express got one heck of an update today. Firmware update 7.8 for the latest AirPort Express hardware (2012 2nd-gen model, no longer sold) adds support for AirPlay 2 and Apple’s Home app. The teaser for support has been present since iOS 11.4 beta, but support hasn’t been live before today’s version 7.8 firmware update.

I tweeted that this is the most discombobulated thing Apple has done in years, I got a lot of flack, I reassessed, and I still think it’s insane. Apple released a major feature for a product they don’t sell anymore. This is way more ridiculous to me than Apple charging $200 for a leather sleeve, or missing a deadline for announced features.

I am not saying that this is bad for owners of the second-generation AirPort Express. It’s great that there is now a way to bring dumb speakers into the AirPlay 2 ecosystem, connecting via the Express’s aux input. Specifically, the absurd part of this is that they rolled this out to a product that they discontinued months ago, the Express has been delisted from the Apple Store, and there isn’t a replacement product for people to buy that can achieve the same result.

What does Apple expect people to do? Scrounge on eBay for some second-hand AirPort Express units and hope they win the treasure hunt bidding war? When Apple updates iOS for older iPhones that they no longer sell, with iOS 12 going all the way back to the discontinued iPhone 5s, they are advancing a platform. The features introduced in iOS 12 are available for customers buying the currently-sold new-in-box phones. The support given to the older phones makes their owners more likely to buy another iPhone when they come to upgrade, and it advances the app ecosystem by carrying forward millions of existing customers as potential markets for developers making apps that targets the latest and greatest OS.

The AirPort Express has no successor, no future, and no substitute. The closest alternative is buying an AirPlay 2 receiver I suppose, but I think that’s obviously aiming at a very different demographic. The Express is like a Chromecast, a glorified dongle. The AirPlay 2 ecosystem does not have an equivalent product, apart from a product that you can’t buy anymore. That’s really screwed up messaging in my book. When the decision came down to retire the AirPort line, the work on this feature should have been axed as well. What has actually happened is completely incongruous.

What I hope Apple introduces is a rebranded/redesigned AirPort Express for $49, that ditches all of the wireless networking stuff and just acts as an AirPlay 2 audio repeater. Maybe it will be manufactured by Apple’s new best friend, Logitech. Perhaps Beats will make one. If such a product existed (and maybe it will in a couple weeks), I would be less riled up. At least then, you could point people to something that serves the same role as the Express. The status quo is ridiculous. (By the way, the method for updating the AirPort Express with this posthumous software update is through AirPort Utility. The iOS AirPort Utility app is letterboxed on the iPhone X display.)