Airport Express Falls Short

by Hadley Stern

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On the face of it Airport Express sounds really really cool. Stream tunes to your stereo anywhere in your house. Just plug it in to your wall, connect an audio jack out into your stereo and you are done.

Well, almost. Unlike digital music players that let you stream and control your digital music collection Airport Express is merely a streaming device.

Want to actually control your next track? Or pause what is currently playing? You have to traipse to wherever your Mac or PC is and control the songs from there. If your machine is in the same room you are in better luck. Still it’s not ideal.

The problems with Airport Express don’t stop there. Want to stream songs to multiple machines that are playing are different songs? Can’t.

The Airport Express is undoubtedly a cool product that fills a need within the Airport line. The ability to extend a wireless network with a small device is great. But as a home audio device it has much to be a desired.

I have called, in the past, for Apple to create an iStereo, a digital componant that would stream music like the Aiport Express does but also let users control their music from the device. I suppose if the next version of the iPod has Bluetooth built in that could solve part of the puzzle. Still, the market is begging Apple to create a stereo component. HP has done it, Linkys has done it, and any number of small aftermarket players have done it. Unlike these companies Apple has the most to gain from getting a device out in the marketplace. Steve, spend some of the 5 billion you have in cash and get the job done. Now.

What do you think of the Airport Express? Hit, or miss?


2004-06-09 06:15:38
I don't get it
This reminds me of audiophiles and their hi-fi separate CD and DVD recorder units, or those portable DVD players you get. Whenever I see these devices (and their price tags) I think: get a computer (or a laptop in the latter case).

A few people have raised the same issues as you and I think that you just have to imagine the iBook as the biggest and best remote control in the world (if you look seriously into remote controls at you'll find that an iBook to control your tunes could even be considered a bargain:

I used to own a 400 CD changer (still do in fact but it's gathering dust since i got my mac digitally hooked up to my amp) and even with a bulky, battery-eating remote that you could use to club burglers to death, featuring an LCD screen that listed the titles of every track it was a pain to choose the next song. Creating on-the-fly party playlists on an iBook is a joy by comparison without even getting into smart playlists, instant search by typing parts of song titles, ratings and the variety of other song selection tools at your disposal.

I think people are getting this device confused with a simple CD player where controls like skip forward and back where all you needed.

Now an iPod-like remote (not a fully fledged iPod, I've already got one of those and I like my gadgets--at least the ones with a user-interface--to do one thing and one thing well) would be really cool.

2004-06-09 06:43:19
the cheap ibook approach
The idea of using a cheap-ish older iBook as a media station has a lot of merit. Of course, you still need to get up from the couch to control it, unless you can conveniently have it hooked in to everything right by the couch.

And it's not for everyone, but the Salling Clicker makes some cellphones into wicked remote controls for iTunes (not to mention other Mac programs), giving access to pretty much the whole iTunes interface via the phone. So Clicker+Airport Express could make for a pretty good combination.

2004-06-09 06:48:31
the cheap ibook approach
Add my vote for Salling Clicker. I've already been using it to control iTunes remotely. Now I can hook an Airport Express into my stereo in the living room and listen to music on that. Much better than having to crank up my Mac's speakers in the bedroom. I think the only thing the Airport Express will fall short on is supply. My local Apple store better have two on hand for me!
2004-06-09 06:54:40
ibook and sailing clicker
Both are great ideas..actually in my upcoming O'reilly book iPod/iTunes Hacks there will be hacks covering both and a hack on controlling iTunes from a PDA.

I agree that the Airport Express will be a great success. As a small wi-fi unit it is awesome. However, I wish Apple would take the digital hub to the next level.

2004-06-09 07:29:11
the cheap ibook approach
You could also couple that old Mac with an IR remote from Keyspan (the Digital Media Remote) or with an RF remote (the ATI Remote Wonder)... tie it's commands into a universal remote like the Harmony (which is fully OS X configurable.)

Try as a I might, I can't really see myself pulling out my cell phone when I want to relax on the couch and listen to tunes. That stays in the office or in its recharging cradle. For relaxing, I'd rather use the remote control that's always sitting on the coffee table.

2004-06-09 08:14:34
I'm not quite sure I'd say the product falls short
I remember when the ipod came out, and my reaction was a big so what. I didn't think it was anything special, just another music player so what was the big deal. Now when I walk the street I see them everywhere and I get it, but I guess my point is that while my new reaction to this airport device is pretty much similar, I have a feeling that apple understands the market pretty well (not that they haven't made some doozies, I owned a powercd) and that there just might be some niche that this thing fills. maybe people aren't ready for a stereo component yet, just like most people weren't ready for a music player. I guess I've just learned to think alot about a new apple product when my first reaction is so what.
2004-06-09 09:48:58
WiFi iPod seems obvious now

The obvious next step is a WiFi iPod. The technology is cheap, and small enough to fit on a PC card. Maybe you could get a decent antenna into an iPod, and suddenly you have a new paradigm for home stereo usage.

Instead of a remote control device controlling a fixed audio device (stereo system, computer), the remote is the audio device, and you could conceivably use it from any room in the house.

That's what I'm thinking, anyway.

2004-06-09 10:59:28
The possibilities...
I also like the idea of a cheap iBook solution, especially combined with Applescript and voice recognition. It would be pretty simple to setup a script that will automatically access a playlist or favorite albums and make the script a voice command. Of course this would probably have to be combined with the mute button on your stereo's remote control.

But I can also imagine sitting in the kitchen reading the paper on a Sunday morning while listening to some slow jazz from the stereo that is in the living room. Suddenly I reach over to the laptop on the kitchen counter and change the currently playing music to something a little more upbeat, more conducive to cleaning the house before the wife starts yelling...

2004-06-09 12:02:49
the cheap ibook approach
You'd have to see Clicker in action: when your phone is controlling iTunes, it shows you the current track title and time. You don't need to remember "press this key to move to the next playlist", you navigate menus. Having a two-way information flow between remote and base station makes it much more reasonable to have the base station in a different room with no other visual feedback.

Like I said, not for everyone, but it could be pretty darned cool. If there were a general-purpose remote that did the same, that would be nice too--but I've already paid for this phone!

2004-06-09 13:43:00
Falls short? Not at $129
I think it's a brillant device for the price. While the other solutions you note are about the same price, they are only 802.11b. And given Apple's record on ease-of-use, I'm sure this will be a lot easier for the average consumer then what's on the market now.

Yes, it's only a first step. Yes, it's not perfect. But at $129 it looks like an awesome product.

You can always add an ATI RF Remote to remotely control iTunes.

2004-06-09 21:17:29
Good enough for now
Oh, I think it's being overly negative. I'm sure the ideal device has lots more features.

For now, Airport Express is a great product, with wonderful potential. I wouldn't be surprised to see a near future update of iTunes to offer different playlists to different sets of speakers (since the speakers are named). 3rd party remotes are almost inevitable.

The Alpha Geeks are going to hack some serious fun with these things. For instance, talk about your remote controls - forget the iBook (well, not entirely)... any linux/*nix device that has wifi and a shell is fair game for quick use as a remote. I mean, it is a wifi network - login to your server from a handheld, tap some perl-to-iTunes hacks.

~ Brian

2004-06-10 08:55:29
the cheap ibook approach
What's the range of Bluetooth with Sailing Clicker? I mean, does it work from any room of the house?
2004-06-11 00:10:46
Apple is ahead of you...

"When Jobs was demonstrating the new Airport Express, Walt Mossberg said that the biggest problem he saw was that users had to get up and walk to their computers to change play lists. Jobs joked that walking was good, but when pressed, he smiled a wry smile. AppleInsider correspondents took this to mean that Apple is developing in this area, and the Airport Express is just a step along the way."

2004-06-11 16:11:26
the cheap ibook approach
Any kind of wireless technology depends on a lot of things--what your walls are made of, time of day, etc. Seriously. And BT is certainly very short-range, but I can use it from any room in my house, or the front or back yard. My phone shows whether it's got a live connection to the computer, and I have to be in front of my neighbor's place before it breaks most of the time. Sometimes the range isn't that good.
2004-06-12 16:02:38
Salling Clicker
It works well with a bluetooth cell phone as mentioned above, but it works beautifully with a Tungsten T2 PDA. In addition to showing you what's currently playing, it will show you the next 3 songs or the current song's artwork.

I think you get the same features on a symbian smartphone.

It'll kill your PDA in a matter of hours though, since the bluetooth is working full time.

2004-06-15 20:03:17
Why don't you whine a little more...
Would you like some cheese to go with that whine?

Give me a break. Apple comes out with an amazing offering for the wireless market that does far more than what any other device on the face of the planet does for wireless at this point and you feel obliged to bitch and moan about it.

If you don't like it, don't buy it, but don't gripe and moan about the fact it doesn't do everything *YOU* wanted it to do. It's in pre-release -- likely to do more in post version 1 release.

So stop your bitching and whining.

2004-07-22 19:18:56
Moving Forward
Not sure what the authors ideas of usage for the AiportExtreme were but it offeres a lot more than the standard wireless media device. Setup will most likely be an obvous difference between AE and a device such as the HP not to mention it being a wireless bridge and enabling wireless sharing of usb devices.

For power book users this is a dream. To be out in my backyard with my laptop streaming music to my stereo which outputs to my outdoor speakers is great. The next piece I would love to see would be other applications taking advantage of this. The DVD player is first on my list. On nice nights I like to sit outside and watch DVD's on my power book and to wirelessly stream the audio to my stereo for better sound quality would be great.

The one thing that I havent seen people discuss is WarTunesing. What fun it would be to drive around the neighborhood, spot an AE wireless device and force people to listen to Winger by broadcasting to their unsecured wireless network.

2004-11-01 03:28:09
Mr Stern you are an idiot. It's probably safe to say you're a pc loving idiot too. I too run a pc but I know a good thing when I see it. Apple have made a low cost, highly portable 802.11g wireless base station / access point with wireless printing AND the ability to wirelessly relay music from your computer (in my case a laptop with tiny speakers almost totally lacking in bass) to my significantly better stereo system.

Just what else were you expecting? The alternative you offer only supports 802.11b thereby leaving you with a widely discredited and crackable security system. And what on earth are you talking about when you mention streaming multiple tunes to multiple machines? How many songs do you listen to at the same time? Or are you practicing astral projection or some other form of bilocation?

That single comment ranks you up there with the other idiot who recently spent almost his entire review of the new iMac G5 saying how well it ran Windows (via VirtualPC).

If you don't get it, please don't embarrass yourself by showing off your dulled imagination.
2004-11-01 05:39:10
Wow, I haven't been accused of being a PC-lover especially since I run a site called Apple Matters. If anything, I get accused of being too pro-Apple. But thanks for the laugh!

One purpose of critizing a product is to help get new ideas out there. I live in a house, and would like to be able to listen to my iTunes music on another floor (and change a song) without having to go all the way downstairs. It's that simple. I think the Airport Express is a great product, but I think Apple hasn't cracked the digital media home hub experience yet.
2004-11-01 05:39:38
Wow, I haven't been accused of being a PC-lover especially since I run a site called Apple Matters. If anything, I get accused of being too pro-Apple. But thanks for the laugh!

One purpose of critizing a product is to help get new ideas out there. I live in a house, and would like to be able to listen to my iTunes music on another floor (and change a song) without having to go all the way downstairs. It's that simple. I think the Airport Express is a great product, but I think Apple hasn't cracked the digital media home hub experience yet.