There’s now more than one way to configure Apple’s wireless equipment. The company has introduced a free iOS version of AirPort Utility, with nearly the same functionality as the desktop program.
The mobile app makes it possible to configure your network without the desktop software. You can also use AirPort Utility for iOS to set up and manage a network for someone else, such as a parent or neighbour who has an iPad and a Wi-Fi network, but not a computer.
Launch the iOS app on an existing network with multiple base stations, and you’ll see something you won’t find in the Windows or Mac version of AirPort Utility: a visual representation of your network’s wired and wireless routes to the internet and among base stations. You can pick a router – represented by an accurate thumbnail of its appearance – to examine or configure. A green dot appears next to the globe representing internet connectivity when everything’s working correctly (see above); red and yellow lights mean there’s a problem with your connection.
AirPort Utility shows the topology of the network: the base stations that comprise it and the connections between them
The app offers an easy source of information you’re likely to need from a router, such as the IP address at which it’s operating and whether that address has been assigned by an ISP or set manually.
Tap the Edit button, and you can drill down into most configuration details. You can even use the app to set up fixed addresses for computers on the local network with DHCP Reservation. AirPort Utility’s user interface and general navigational approach is friendly to use and intuitive, although it’s easy to inadvertently tap Cancel when you’re trying to tap Done.
At the time of writing, AirPort Utility has a security flaw. It won’t forget a base station’s password, and it readily exposes the plain text of both the password to change settings and the separate password to join an encrypted network. We’d like Apple to add an option to either lock the app or discard one or more passwords.
In the meantime, if you’re concerned that someone might access your base station’s settings using the app, set a passcode lock on your iOS device.
Who’s it for?
Don’t launch AirPort Utility on your iPhone or iPad thinking you’ll be able to take on complex tasks like IPv6 network configuration and system logging. Those features are still the domain of the desktop version of the software. The iOS app is also unable to load or store configuration profiles – a minor issue for most home and small office networks.
And that’s the key point. For most users, those drawbacks are minor. For the majority of purposes, the free AirPort Utility app for iOS makes it simpler to set up base stations and fix problems without requiring that you have a computer at your fingertips, loaded with the right software.
This is especially useful when a router is in an inconvenient location where hauling a laptop may be hazardous to its well-being and yours, such as in the attic of your home.