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Wednesday, January 31, 2007, 09:00 pm PT (12:00 am ET)

Extremes enroute to Apple stores; Apple TV to follow

Apple today began shipping the first batches of its new 802.11n wireless router to customers and will soon have them in stores. Meanwhile, the company's equally boxy Apple TV is due just a few weeks later, AppleInsider has learned.

People acquainted with Apple's supply chain said that the Cupertino-based firm began shipments of the $179 Airport Extreme ahead of its self-imposed February schedule and that the network device should start turning up in select Apple retail stores soon as tomorrow.

Display models and advertising are expected to make their way into virtually every store by the end of the week.

Those who ordered from the company, however, may face a more interminable wait. While some Extremes will be shipping at the same time as Apple's retail deliveries, checks with the online store have revealed that others are not scheduled to leave the company's manufacturing facilities until mid-month.

The Apple TV won't be far behind, those same people report. In-store window displays promoting the networked media hub are currently due around February 19th, with actual hardware following later in the same week.

The updated Airport Extreme has garnered both positive word-of-mouth and controversy since its under-the-radar announcement at this month's Macworld San Francisco expo. It earned kudos for both its improved 802.11n Wi-Fi speed (which delivers nearly 5X the maximum speed of its UFO-shaped forefather) and the new AirDisk feature, which shares one or more USB hard disks with everyone on the network regardless of platform.

However, it also received a healthy share of flak thanks to its creator's policy: after confirming that every Core 2 Duo system shipped since late 2006 would support the faster Wi-Fi speeds of the new router, Apple startled more than a few by promising free updates for those select Macs only if they bought Apple's network base station, charging $2 for users content to use third-party routers. The fee was set in place by Apple under the pretext that the Sarbannes-Oxley Act forced the company to charge existing owners for unlocking a hidden feature.

Response to the Apple TV has been less ambiguous, as the Mac mini-shaped device has seen strong pre-sales through Apple's online store. The streaming media center will offer iTunes Store customers the means to play their music and videos directly on newer TV models and will even auto-sync with a specific Mac or PC, caching local content on a 40GB hard drive for offline use.

Much like the Airport Extreme, the Apple TV includes the option of 802.11n wireless for connecting to a local network.