Until the release of the AirPort Utility app in October 2011, the only way to configure an AirPort Extreme Base Station, Time Capsule, or AirPort Express was from the desktop AirPort Utility software included in recent version of Mac OS X and available as a free download for Windows. The free AirPort Utility for iOS from Apple includes all the relevant functionality of the desktop software plus a little extra.
Except for cosmetic improvements and a minor name change, the Mac and Windows version of AirPort Utility hasn’t changed all that much since 1999. The mobile app, however, opens with a dramatic difference: a graphical depiction of your network’s wiring and wireless routes to the Internet and among base stations. At a glance, you can pick a router, which Apple represents with an accurate thumbnail of its appearance, to examine or configure. A red or yellow icon next to the globe representing Internet connectivity or a router means something’s wrong. The graphic works equally well on the scale of the iPhone and iPod touch and on the iPad. If only Apple would bring such simplicity to its desktop utility.
The app provides ready access to information you need from a router, such as the IP address at which it’s operating and has been assigned by an Internet service provider or set manually. But tap an Edit button, and you can drill down into most but not all configuration details, from picking a particular 5-gigahertz radio channel to the rate of speed at which a given wireless client has connected. AirPort Utility can even set up fixed addresses for computers on the local network using DHCP Reservation. The drill-down approach of tapping menus and choosing settings works well. Occasionally, I would mistakenly tap Cancel instead of Done—both options are near each other at the top—and erased a change I made. Apple could provide a prompt when tapping Cancel if changes would be lost to avoid unintentional do-overs.
AirPort Utility has a security flaw: the app never forgets a base station password, and a few taps reveals the plain text of both the network and configuration passwords. Apple should add an option to either lock the app or discard one or more passwords.
A few advanced details usually handled on corporate network by IT folks are missing, and you’ll need to switch to a desktop for IPv6 network configuration, system logging, and some charts. AirPort Utility for iOS also can’t load or store configuration profiles, a minor issue for most home and small office networks.
AirPort Utility for iOS is the perfect tool for configuring and troubleshooting Apple’s gear without having to lug a laptop around, but it needs to improve its handling of password storage.
[Glenn Fleishman is a senior contributor to Macworld, and author of numerous books on wireless networking. The most recent is Take Control of Your 802.11 AirPort Network, updated for Lion, including advice on AirDrop.]
Updated at 3:32 p.m. PT to remove port mapping from AirPort Utility’s missing feature list, as you can configure port mapping via the mobile app.