How Apple’s Next AirPort Routers Could Make a Great CDN

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There are signs that Apple’s Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme are poised for an update, based on diminishing stock of the current models. One suggestion was that the next Time Capsule, which includes a hard drive, might download and cache software updates for iPhones and Macs on the local network. John Gruber even dared to hope that this might provide a way to get iOS firmware updates without a computer. While that’s a neat possibility, I think there’s another, more interesting one. What if that cache could be used for iCloud media streaming?

iCloud is rumored to be, among other things, a cloud-based music service that would let you stream songs, and perhaps movies or TV shows, from your collection to your iPhone over the Internet. Streaming requires buffering to avoid stuttering or pauses as you wait for content to arrive. A bigger buffer is required if you want to rewind and fast forward, or skip a chapter in a movie. While storage is somewhat limited on an iPhone (8 to 32 GB), a Time Capsule has a much larger drive — up to 2 TB. If the Time Capsule, which also acts as your Internet router, were to cache the content from iCloud, it would be like having your own Content Delivery Network (CDN) in your house to guarantee smooth streaming.

Having a local cache of content from iCloud would also make it easier to pause on one device and pick up the stream on another. Say you were listening to an album on your iPhone while working in the den. You could move to the kitchen to start making dinner, and push the stream to your Apple TV connected to the stereo in the next room. Or maybe you could push your movie streamed from the cloud from the small screen of an iOS device to your TV without skipping a beat. Ars Technica heard from a source that new AirPort hardware might run iOS, which would make this kind of thing even easier.

AirPlay would make a nice update to the AirPort Extreme as well. Adding an optical audio out to the router, like the one the Express has, wouldn’t be difficult. And while we’re on the subject of adding support for features, why not AirPrint? The current AirPort Express, Extreme and Time Capsule have USB ports to support wireless printing. Is it much of a stretch to imagine AirPrint-compatible printer sharing so that iOS devices could use any printer connected to an AirPort, even if that printer doesn’t directly support AirPrint itself?

I would love to see some updates to the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule. And while caching software updates would be useful, caching iCloud music and video and adding support for AirPlay and AirPrint sounds a lot sexier to me. The AirPort devices haven’t seen an update since 2009, and adding CDN capabilities would certainly make for a splashy refresh. What do you think?

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