One Last Go With the Apple AirPort Extreme and Express

apple_airport_extreme_express_time_capsule

I have been using Apple’s AirPort Extreme and Express Wi-Fi equipment for about two years now.  In a fit of rage over my previous equipment’s constantly poor performance, constant reboots, and dropped connections, I ripped everything out, put in a new Surfboard cable modem and installed a refurbished AirPort Extreme (802.11ac) and Express (802.11n).  I never looked back.

I never looked back, that is, until Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg Technology (Warning: auto-play video…Grrrr!), last month, reported that Apple has quietly “disbanded its division that develops wireless routers”.  The last time Apple updated their networking hardware was June 2013 for the AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule (for performing wireless Time Machine backups).  The AirPort Express last received an update four years ago, in June 2012.

Since seeing the report back on November 21, I have been on the prowl for a second refurbished AirPort Express to extend the Wi-Fi coverage in the kid’s bedrooms.  It was one of those things that was on my “I’ll get around to it” lists.  Knowing that the AirPort line of products are on the way out lit the fire I needed to get in my last go around with AirPort.

Earlier this week, I happened to check the Apple Certified Refurbished store and saw that all the AirPort hardware was in stock.  I hastily purchased another Express.  It should arrive today.

Some AirPort History

apple_airport_base_station_graphite_1999
Apple AirPort Base Station (Graphite) 1999 – via AppleToTheCore.me

AirPort has been around for a long time.  The original AirPort Base Station (sans Extreme) was released all the way back in July 1999 – the same year Apple released now classic Macintosh machines such as the iBook, the CRT-based iMac, the Power Mac G4, and the PowerBook.

apple_airport_extreme_2007
Apple AirPort Extreme 2007 Edition

Truth be told, my current AirPort hardware is not my first.  I purchased a first-generation AirPort Extreme base station from circa 2007, when CompUSA was closing their brick and mortar retail operations.  It supported 802.11a/b/g, and the draft 802.11n specification.  (For clarification, the previously mentioned ripping out of hardware was non-Apple 802.11n equipment.)

Oh, What a Mesh!

If you are looking to replace your existing Wi-Fi hardware, I can’t recommend Apple’s router and Wi-Fi hardware.  While my AirPort hardware has been extreme-ly (I’m not sorry about that pun) reliable for me, there is no point in investing in new hardware now that we have seemingly reached the end of the road for AirPort.

Besides, mesh Wi-Fi networks are all the rage these days.  At a high-level, traditional Wi-Fi networks that have access points sprinkled around a home or small office.  Each node connects back to a router base station.  As you move between access points, the connection must move (manually or automatically) between the access points (Brain, Wilson, Johnson, 2001).  Mesh network connections, on the other hand, are spread out among satellite nodes.  All of the nodes talk to each other to create a single, larger wireless area network (Roos, 2007).

eero Web Photos
eero Home WiFi System 3-pack

If you are looking to install a new Wi-Fi network in your home or small office, I would suggest investigating mesh Wi-Fi networking equipment from eero, Netgear’s Orbi line, Google WiFi (if you are OK with Alphabet snorting up even more of your personal data), and others.  Jim Salter, over at The Wirecutter (part of The New York Times Company) has a great overview of the current state of mesh Wi-Fi networking equipment.  As of this writing, Mr. Salter last updated his post on November 30, 2016.

Mesh networks aren’t for everyone.  They can be expensive.  The eero 3-pack, pictured above, is $499.  If you have a small home or apartment, you can very likely do well with a single Wi-Fi Router like the TP-Link Archer C7 (TheWirecutter.com review).  The C7 can be purchased for under $100.

Looking Ahead

If you find yourself in a similar situation as I am, and you want to get that one last addition to your home network, you should checkout the RefurbStore website.  It “looks into” Apple’s refurbished inventory and allows you to setup an alert when the part you are interested is back in stock.  For example, two days ago, Apple had AirPort Express units in stock.  Today, they are all sold out.  RefurbStore looks like a good way to keep tabs on what Apple has available over time.  It took me about four weeks to finally find the Express in stock.

For me, I am sticking with my AirPort Extreme base station and two AirPort Express nodes for a little while longer.  Looking down the road, if I squint, I think I see an eero two or three node mesh network in my future. But for now, I’m


References

Marshall Brain, Tracy V. Wilson & Bernadette Johnson “How WiFi Works” April 30, 2001. HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved from: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/wireless-network.htm, December 30, 2016.

Dave Roos “How Wireless Mesh Networks Work” June 20, 2007. HowStuffWorks.com.  Retrieved from: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/how-wireless-mesh-networks-work.htm December 30, 2016.


 

BlackBerry to Focus Entirely on Android Devices

In a piece out today from TheNational, BlackBerry CEO, John Chen, admitted that the other fruit themed company will solely focus its efforts on Android devices.

“Mr. Chen said that while BlackBerry would continue to release updates for [BlackBerry 10 OS], there were no plans to launch new devices running the operating system.”

This would mean that the current BlackBerry 10 OS devices, the Classic, Passport, and the Leap will presumably be the last devices running the OS.

Further complicating the handset problem BlackBerry faces, Mr. Chen also told the paper that the price of the first ever BlackBerry running a version of Android, the Priv, was too expensive at the $700 price point.

“A lot of enterprise customers have said to us, ‘I want to buy your phone but $700 is a little too steep for me. I’m more interested in a $400 device’.”

I really liked BlackBerry and had used a few of their devices, most notably, the BlackBerry Curve and Storm.  (Yes, I was one of the few people who liked the ‘unique’ touchscreen on the BlackBerry Storm and Storm 2.)  It is sad to watch a market leader essentially transition from a hardware/software company to a services company.  (IBM sans their PCs anyone?)  With only 600,000 devices having been sold last quarter, according to TheNational, it is hard to see a strategy that will make the handset unit of the company profitable over the long-haul.

The BlackBerry April 2016 earnings report can be downloaded from the BlackBerry website (Direct PDF download link).

[Via TheNational…]

Samsung Galaxy “Ultimate Test Drive” for iPhone Switchers

Last week, Samsung launched the “Ultimate Test Drive” promotional website to entice customers to ditch their iPhones in favor of Samsung’s cheap imitation iPhone clones, namely the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge+ or the Galaxy Note5.

Did I mention all of those devices run the less secure and less frequently updated Google Android OS?
Like I would ever give up my iPhones for an Android device.  Least of all a Samsung Android device.
The program works like this:
  1. You go to the promo site.
  2. Pick out the new Galaxy phone you want
  3. Take a 30-day test drive (after handing over your credit card information)
  4. Buy the phone or send it back.
So, here’s the kicker.  The site went live late last week.  When I visited the site on Sunday morning, I was greeted by a message at the bottom of the page that reads:
“Thank you for your interest. Due to the overwhelming demand, we are temporarily out of test drive phones. Please keep checking back for available phones.”
Huh.  I thought that Samsung was having a hard time selling Galaxy phones after Apple launched the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ last September.  You’d think that Samsung would have piles and piles of Galaxy phones in warehouses all over the place after reports from earlier this month that price cuts are going into effect.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge+ go on sale in the US on September 21.

FREAK SSL Vulnerability Identified

Yesterday, news broke of a new Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, vulnerability that both Google and Apple have begun working on patches for.

ZDNet described the security problem by saying:

“The FREAK bug disclosed yesterday is the latest in a series of vulnerabilities affecting the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols used to encrypt traffic between an HTTPS website and a browser.”

At the root of the problem, it is possible for a hacker to compromise a website that allows their computer to be inserted into what is suppose to be a private communication between your browser and a web server for things like online banking or shopping.  In end, you don’t get what you want and the hacker gets your personal information.

ZDNet goes on to say that the National Security Agency, the very same United States government agency spearheading the charge to weaken encryption security, is also vulnerable to this problem.

Here’s my favorite part:

“Thousands of sites are vulnerable, including that of the US National Security Agency – the same agency that pushed for weaker export grade encryption, according to Ed Felten, director of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy.

“There is an important lesson here about the consequences of crypto policy decisions: the NSA’s actions in the ’90s to weaken exportable cryptography boomeranged on the agency, undermining the security of its own site twenty years later,” Felten wrote on his blog yesterday.”

Apple is working on updates for Safari for both iOS and Mac OS X and are expected to be deployed as updates next week.

For more, see the full ZDNet.com article.

Using Chrome? Maybe It’s Time To Reconsider Firefox.

Jack Schofield, writing for ZDNet:

“The main reason for switching to Firefox is that, overall, it’s better than Chrome. But there are other reasons.

Other leading browsers may sometimes do that, but their primary function is to serve the needs of giant corporations — Apple, Google and Microsoft — none of which has any interest in preserving your privacy. Usually the reverse, in fact.

Firefox has always respected your privacy, and now, all things considered, it’s also winning on merit.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Google already knows so much about us, I don’t want to make it even easier for the search and advertizing giant to learn more about me.  That’s why I still have FireFox installed on my Macs and Windows 7 PCs.  As far as I’m concerned, FireFox is pretty fast enough for my needs and when I do have to run Chrome, I run it in a VM.

[Via ZDNet.com…]

Samsung Unveils the Galaxy S5 Smartphone

Today, at the Mobile World Congress trade show, Samsung took the wraps off of their new flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5.

Samsung’s full Galaxy S5 press release follows below.

Barcelona, Spain, February 24, 2014 – Samsung Electronics today announced the fifth generation of the Galaxy S series, the Galaxy S5, designed for what matters most to consumers. The new Galaxy S5 offers consumers a refined experience with innovation of essential features for day-to-day use.

“With the Galaxy S5, Samsung is going back to basics to focus on delivering the capabilities that matter most to our consumers,” said JK Shin, President and Head of IT & Mobile Communications Division at Samsung. “Consumers are looking for mobile tools that inspire and support them as they improve their everyday lives. The Galaxy S5 represents an iconic design with essential and useful features to focus on delivering the ultimate smartphone on the market today through people inspired innovation.”

The Galaxy S5 combines an advanced camera, the fast network connectivity, dedicated fitness tools and enhanced device protection features as consumers stay fit and connected in style.

Capture the moments that matter
Capturing and saving precious memories is one of the most important smartphone features today. The new Galaxy S5 offers superior camera functionality, featuring a 16 megapixel camera with an enhanced menu and user interface that allow consumers to effortlessly take, edit and share photos.

The Galaxy S5 offers the world’s fastest autofocus speed up to 0.3 seconds and the advanced High Dynamic Range (HDR), reproduce natural light and color with striking intensity at any circumstances. Also new Selective Focus feature allows users to focus on a specific area of an object while simultaneously blurring out the background. With this capability, consumers no longer need a special lens kit to create a shallow depth of field (DOF) effect.

Tap into the fastest connections
The Galaxy S5 offers the most advanced LTE experience and Wi-Fi performance available today, ensuring blazing fast data speeds for unrivaled media consumption and productivity.

The Galaxy S5 supports the fifth generation Wi-Fi 802.11ac and 2X2 MIMO, and supporting the large number of LTE frequency with LTE Category 4 standard. For consumers seeking an even faster connection, the Galaxy S5 now features Download Booster, an innovative Wi-Fi technology for boosting data speed by bonding Wi-Fi and LTE simultaneously. No matter where a consumer is, the Galaxy S5 will help ensure they have the fastest available connection.

Be more fit and active
With the enhanced S Health 3.0, the new Galaxy S5 offers more tools to help people stay fit and well. It provides a comprehensive personal fitness tracker to help users monitor and manage their behavior, along with additional tools including a pedometer, diet and exercise records, and a new, built-in heart rate monitor. Galaxy S5 users can further customize their experience with an enriched third party app ecosystem and the ability to pair with next generation Gear products for real-time fitness coaching.

Express modern, glam look
The Galaxy S5 blends iconic Samsung design with modern trends to appeal to a range of consumer tastes and interests. The Galaxy S5 features a perforated pattern on the back cover creating a modern glam look. Its new sleek, contoured shape comes in an array of vivid colors, including charcoal Black, shimmery White, electric Blue and copper Gold, to complement the style of the individual consumer.

Essential device protection
The Galaxy S5 is IP67 dust and water resistant. It also offers a Finger Scanner, providing a secure, biometric screen locking feature and a seamless and safe mobile payment experience to consumers. The Ultra Power Saving Mode turns the display to black and white, and shuts down all unnecessary features to minimize the battery consumption.

The device will be available globally through Samsung’s retail channels, e-commerce and carriers on April.

Tell Google “No” to Google+ Email Integration

This week, Google started turning on by default, Google+ profile to Gmail inbox messaging – even if the Google+ user doesn’t know your Gmail account email address.

No, Google, I don’t want to use Google+.  No matter how badly you want me to for my personal email.  (This blog does cross posts to Google+.)

You Gmail account will be impacted by the change when you receive an email from Google stating that the feature has been turned on.

“Ever wanted to email someone you know, but haven’t yet exchanged email addresses? Starting this week, when you’re composing a new email, Gmail will suggest your Google+ connections as recipients, even if you haven’t exchanged email addresses yet.” 

Creepy!

To turn off the feature, log into your Gmail account.  From there, click the “gear” icon near the top right of the Gmail window.  Select the “Settings” menu item.

Scroll down the list of settings until you see “Email via Google+”.

To completely turn off the feature, set it to “No one”.  If you choose to leave the feature on, but with some limits, any email being sent to you via Google+ will, for now at least, appear in the “Social” tab in Gmail.

I’m sure Google will be able to meet it’s goal of integrating Google+ with Gmail – they really haven’t left us a chance with the opt-out setting and many people who don’t read this or other great technology blogs will completely miss this change.

For me, though, this is getting to be a bit much.  Google’s motto used to be “Don’t be evil” and I started using Google’s services back when that was clear.  Now, with Google well into their advertising business, I’m less sure “Don’t be evil” gets enough air play.

If you have had enough of Google, you can switch to your iCloud.com email address that comes free with pretty much any iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Macintosh.  Apple’s not in the business of advertising.  You can also switch to Microsoft’s Outlook.com or Yahoo Email.  Still, if you really don’t like those options, you can always switch to your ISPs, often, terrible email system or subscribe to a hosted Microsoft Exchange Server account.  (If you do that last one, you can get Exchange Active Sync – EAS back.)

Quickoffice Coming Bundled With KitKat, Trouble for Microsoft Office?

Yesterday I was poking around the Google Android website for an updated version of their SDK, and stumbled across the KitKat features page.  Starting with Android 4.4 KitKat, Google will begin bundling their Quickoffice software into the update.

Quickoffice is Google’s mobile productivity office suite for the Android operating system.  With the current version of Quickoffice, available from the Google Play Store, you can read and edit Microsoft Office documents from your smartphone or table.

So the question I have is: With free office productivity suites available for both Google Android and Apple iOS, why is Microsoft waiting to get the real deal Office on to people’s devices?  Sure there is an Office Mobile application for the iPhone, but you must already have a subscription to Microsoft’s Office 365 service to use it.  And what about a version optimized for the iPad?

If anything, the automatic deployment of Quickoffice to any Android device that receives the 4.4 KitKat upgrade is putting even more pressure on Microsoft to get Office on more devices.  In the past, Microsoft’s our-platform-or-no-one-elses strategy for Office is really hurting them.  As a business customer, I rely on Microsoft’s Office suite to get my job done, but on smartphones and tablets, I hardly miss them.

And that, I feel, is Microsoft’s problem.  The inclusion of Quickoffice with KitKat alongside of the free Google Docs web application, Google isn’t just going after a mobile productivity suite for mobile, they are working to actively destroy Microsoft’s long establish revenue staple – Office.

Only time will tell if mobile Office document editing will gain any real traction with prosumers or not.

Samsung’s New Business Model: Copy Palm, Access, and HP

Samsung, as previously reported by many websites, it working on it’s own operating system called “Tizen.”

BGR recently posted an article in which they report on Samsung’s hopes Tizen will be the alternative OS.  I believe that Samsung intends Tizen to be the OS that breaks them free of the need for Google’s Android operating system for smartphones and tablets.

But Samsung doesn’t just want to stop with smartphones and tablets, they see Tizen powering all sorts of devices.  In a recent interview with CNET, Samsung co-CEO J.K. Shin states:

“There are many convergences not only among IT gadgets, including smartphones, tablets, PCs, and cameras, but also among different industries like cars, bio, or banks.  Cross-convergence is the one [area] Samsung can do best since we do have various parts and finished products.”

I don’t know about you, but a few things make me worry for Samsung.  First off, that co-CEO thing.  Ask RIM how that worked out for them.  Secondly, Samsung does a horrendous job putting their software on top of Android, now they’re writing their own operating system.  And lastly, when I hear talk about putting smartphone operating systems in all sorts of consumer electronics like cameras, banks and ATM machines, cars…I start to think about all the grandiose plans I recall reading about PalmSource Palm OS 5, ACCESS’ Access Linux Platform (aka Palm OS 6), and even Palm/HP webOS.   All of those efforts failed to even come close to reaching the kind of market penetration that was talked about.

Samsung, for it’s part, does control a number of product lines where they can just say we’re going to put the Tizen OS into this refrigerator and it will happen.  And Tizen will gain marketshare just from the sheer amount of gadget spam and appliances they put out.  But will people really want to run apps on their fridge, coffee maker, and toaster?  Maybe some day, but it looks doubtful for the next few years.

At least Samsung isn’t planning on abandoning the use of Google Android in their smartphones and tablets any time soon.

[Via BGR.com…]

BlackBerry Still Struggling to Revitalize Itself

This past week was not particularly a good one for mobile device maker BlackBerry, formerly known as Research In Motion.

This past Friday, BlackBerry, announced details about their first quarter earnings, and Wall Street was caught off guard, in their opinion, about how few new BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 devices were sold.  For the quarter wrapping up, BlackBerry sold about 2.7 million new BlackBerry 10 devices.  BlackBerry 10 is the company’s mobile operating system, similar to Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS.  Adding insult to injury, BlackBerry sold 4.1 million of their older, BlackBerry 7-powered devices for a combined total of 6.8 million units shipped.  Once the news was released, BlackBerry’s stock price started trending downward, some would say “crashing”, down 26-28%, ending up at $10.46.  Worse, according to BlackBerry, their subscriber base has shrunk by 4 million users ending up at 72 million users globally.

To help mount their turn around, BlackBerry will continue to rollout their existing Z10 and Q10 around the world while bringing new BlackBerry 10 devices like the “budget” Q5 to “emerging” markets this summer and through-out the calendar year.

Research In Motion was caught completely off guard, as was just about every other smartphone maker, in 2007 when Apple released the game changing iPhone.  Everyone, except maybe Google, has been chasing the fruit phone maker since.

What surprises me, however, is that history seems to repeat itself.  I always hated it when my parents or teachers told me this, but I have come to accept and believe it.  You see, there was another smartphone maker that found itself in a similar position a few years ago: Palm.

There are a number of similarities between BlackBerry and Palm.  Palm, like BlackBerry, was down on their luck after the iPhone was released. Palm was limping along on sales of their previous generation Palm OS and Windows Mobile smartphones just like BlackBerry is doing now.  BlackBerry, like Palm, is desperately trying to reinvent itself with the Z10 and BlackBerry 10 just like Palm attempted to do with the Pre and webOS.  We know, that after a long, drawn out battle, Palm after being acquired by HP, finally came to an end.  Will BlackBerry and the BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system suffer a similar fate?  Will they continue to be a niche corporate market player or will they finally fade off like Palm?

We don’t know the answer to that question.  Make no mistake, what BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins is attempting to do to turn around his company is extremely difficult.  This past spring I had a chance to play with the new Z10 handheld and BlackBerry 10.  The phone had a quality design and feel to it.  The new software, was still very much foreign to me after having used older versions of the BlackBerry software.  While the gestures did leave me bewildered during the few minutes I had with the phone, people that I know who have purchased the Z10 have gotten used to it.

Oh, and there is one other similarity that BlackBerry shares with Palm, a small, yet dedicated core user base. Will it be enough to carry BlackBerry through the stormy weather until BlackBerry can grown their subscriber base and software marketshare?  We will have to just wait and see.