The AirPort launched in the year 1999, at exactly the same time as the original iBook G3. Steve Jobs, on the new machine, explained the wireless networking technology by passing a tangerine iBook via a hula hoop, stating “no wires” as he did it.
The original technology was not even Apple’s. It was a “reworked 802.11b Orinoco Gold PCMCIA card with the antenna protrusion lopped off”, with an equivalent card in a carrier within the AirPort Base Station. The original base stations were basically prone to overheat — but they actually were the only game in town for years.
Apple, within a span of two years, refreshed its complete Mac product line, upgrading the innards encompassing the capability of making an addition of an 11 Mbit Wi-Fi card. The pricing, at the time, was revolutionary. The base station sold for 299 dollars, with the AirPort card selling for 99 dollars.
Two years post to the completion of Mac migration, the company rolled out the AirPort Extreme technology, with 802.11g speeds and a design of all its own. That technology hiked greatly the speed to 54mbps, with many machines launched over the next year having it standard. The Airport Express was born in the year 2004. With it arrived an audio jack, letting users wirelessly stream music to speakers connected to the device.
Just a few years later, Apple, in the year 2007, was one of the initial companies to roll out the 802.11n draft that was finalized in the year 2011. But, in between the draft-N and full-N specs, arrived the updated AirPort Extreme with 802.11n, plus the Time Capsule — an Airport Extreme base station with an integrated hard drive.
The last hardware update arrived on 10th June 2013, with the AirPort Extreme sixth gen, supporting 802.11ac, with speeds up to 1.3Gbit/sec. The AirPort Express was updated only cosmetically after its 802.11n update and never would get the faster speeds that 802.11ac provides.
The company rolled out two new technologies very close to each other, the USB on the iMac and 802.11b Wi-Fi on the MacBook. Very clearly, Apple chose to provide an end-to-end solution for the latter, extending not only the wireless card for a computer but also the router, for an evolving broadband world. Networking, especially wireless networking, was not just for the enterprise. High-speed device communication was simple to get into without stringing hundreds of feet of Ethernet cabling through a house. Plus, the setup was easy.
The company could make sure that all of their technologies seamlessly worked with the AirPort routers. The users with Apple routers would not need to worry that iTunes downloads would fail due to a router blocking one port or other, or Apple TV issues streaming or synchronization across a network like some third-party routers induced. Along the way, the company basically won the mobile wars. As long as a third-party router functioned with the iPad or iPhone seamlessly, then the ecosystem would be fine without Apple curation.
A few years back, the company overhauled completely the AirPort setup tool, and lobotomized it, in favor of a simple GUI that easily could be ported to mobile. Many of the features used by the tech savvy to manually control the router were stripped out, in favor of the automatic tools.