Watch for Apple’s announcement Sept. 12 about new iPhones; time to change a Wi-Fi base station; and bringing an old trackball back to life
I’ll admit, even though I follow and write about Apple topics, my interest in the oh-so-many scoops and rumors about the next iPhone models is practically nonexistent. Partly, that’s because until Apple actually announces something, it doesn’t exist. So, unless you’re an iPhone case manufacturer (for whom that type of news is very important), it just doesn’t matter for most people.
Well, now the future is starting to get real. Apple will hold its fall media event on Sept. 12, where it will likely announce new iPhone models, release dates for iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, and hopefully provide shipping dates and more information for the AirHome smart speaker, the iMac Pro, and maybe even the redesigned Mac Pro. Apple will be doing it in its brand-new Steve Jobs Theater, an underground, carbon — fiber-topped presentation space on the new Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California.
I remember when I first heard of a new technology on the horizon that let computers send data to one another through the air, without wires. The idea was a mix between science fiction and absurd fantasy, like sending Mike Teevee from a platform to a television in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Now, Wi-Fi and cellular data are nearly ubiquitous, so much so that wireless networking blends into the background of my house, like water and electricity. Except, when the Wi-Fi stops working, its loss pushes to the front and center.
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For several months, my AirPort Extreme wireless base station, already a few generations old, started flaking out. Rebooting it usually fixed the problem, but that started to become a weekly — then more frequent — occurrence.
To boost the signal from the AirPort Extreme in my office (in a converted attic space) to the bedrooms in our house’s basement, I’d set up a smaller AirPort Express as a range extender. That, too, was behaving inconsistently. It was time for a change.
Normally, I would have ordered the latest AirPort Extreme base station as a replacement, since Apple’s offering has always been the easiest to set up and manage. But Apple seems to have lost interest in the Wi-Fi category, reportedly disbanding the division late last year. The $199 AirPort Extreme is still for sale, but three years old.
I turned not just to a different manufacturer, but to a newer technology. The second-generation Eerostill uses Wi-Fi, but does so using mesh network communication.
Instead of one base station that needs to blast its signal throughout the house, the Eero incorporates two or more components: a base that connects to the Internet router (which is in my office) and secondary devices (Beacons) that relay the traffic.
I bought a kit for $400 that includes the base and two Beacons. The Beacons plug into normal wall power outlets; I put one on the main floor in the living room and the other in my bedroom. An LED light at the bottom even provides illumination at night so you can see where you’re walking in the dark (this can be turned off if you prefer).
Each Beacon coordinates with the base to optimize Internet traffic based on which devices are nearby. And simply having plenty of signal to go around, plus support for the latest 802.11 protocols that my old AirPort didn’t include, resulted in better connection speeds.
The Eero software identifies which devices are being served by which Eero components, and gives you a read on your Internet connection speed.
A package that contains the base plus one Beacon runs for $299, or you can buy a single Eero base for $199 for small areas and optionally add individual Beacons for $149 later if needed. A $499 set is also available that includes three base models for homes where you want to connect them all via Ethernet.
Granted, $400 isn’t cheap at all. However, since Wi-Fi is now like oxygen in my house, it’s been a worthy investment.
A reader recently wrote to me about an issue with his trackball. Mice, keyboards, and other input devices tend to be quite particular to people — once they find a model that’s comfortable for them, they don’t want to give it up.
However, sometimes the manufacturers give up first. In this case, it was a Microsoft Trackball Explorer that stopped working correctly when he upgraded his old Mac to macOS El Capitan. Microsoft stopped updating drivers for it in 2013, meaning some of the buttons became unresponsive.
Fortunately, there’s a solution. USB Overdrive has been the Mac’s magic helper for all sorts of USB input devices that have found themselves cast away to the Land of Misfit Technology Gadgets.
After installing the software, the reader’s trackball regained its functionality. USB Overdrive costs $20, a real bargain to keep your favorite input device working.