December 14, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Missing from Apple’s Line-Up: ‘Airport Expresser’

One of Apple’s most powerful yet under-appreciated products for the past five years or so has been the Airport Express, which has long been capable of playing the music in your iTunes library on any sound system in the house.

Apple has kept Airport Express in production for the past six-plus years more or less unchanged. The company recently released Apple TV, an update of sorts that which streams iTunes audio and now iPhone apps — just like Airport Express –but drops WiFi hotspot and wireless printing in favor of the ability to play video on a television.

The Airport Express and Apple TV each cost $99, and both bundle the ability to stream music from iTunes — and now, from any AirPlay-compatible iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad app — with a host of other features that the music fan might not need, or want to pay for.

The core of the issue: You shouldn’t have to buy a full-fledged Wi-Fi hotspot or television set-top box just to play your app-based music, whether it’s Rhapsody or a flatulence-simulating piano app, over any stereo in your house.

Apple is working with speaker and sound system manufacturers to incorporate wireless audio iOS app playback into speakers and stereos, and it’s great that the Airport Express line is still going strong, but that approach nonetheless ignores a big segment of the music-listening population: people that just want their iPhone, iPads and so on to be able to play on any of their existing sound systems without a lot of hassle.

Apps provide the perfect remote control/music source: all that’s missing is an easy, inexpensive connection to the speakers, and something like an “Airport Expresser” could do that.

If Apple were to price such a device at around $50, it would be pretty hard not to recommend to any non-homeless music fan with an iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. As things stand, though, if you want to listen to your iPhone’s music apps in your home, the pricier Airport Express or Apple TV are still the way to go, depending on whether you want WiFi and wireless printing or video playback, in addition to the music playback that’s the real reason you’re buying the thing in the first place.