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Apple readies AirPort 4.0 software for AirPort Express launch

Apple Computer, Inc. is rapidly completing the development of AirPort 4.0, a major upgrade to its wireless connectivity software which is expected to ship sometime next month with added support for the company's AirPort Express and AirTunes music technologies, sources said.

Recently uncovered Apple documentation indicates that in order to play iTunes music through remote speakers using AirTunes, users will need to be running AirPort 4.0 or later and have iTunes 4.6 installed; the most recent version of Apple's AirPort software is version 3.4.1.

Apple introduced the AirPort Express —a slimmed down version of its AirPort Extreme wireless connectivity station that can also stream iTunes music —earlier this month, though the product is not expected to ship until the second half of July.

The AirPort Express will let users create a new wireless network, connect to an existing wireless network, extend the range of a present wireless network using WDS, connect to a stereo or powered speakers and use AirTunes to play music from iTunes, and network a USB printer.

Developer documentation also reveals that the AirPort Express will act as a NAT router, featuring the ability to share one Internet connection with multiple computers. Apple says that the Express base station can be configured to provide both bridging services and routing services at the same time.

Included with each AirPort Express will be a copy of AirPort 4.0 or later, which will deliver support for many of the aforementioned technologies. AirPort 4.0 will also sport an update AirPort Admin Utility application, and AirPort Express Setup Assistant.

The new AirPort Admin Utility contains a tab for "Music" preferences, and will store up to 5 different configurations, known as profiles. A profile contains settings for a user's AirPort Express, such as the iTunes speaker name and password, and network information. Express users can secure their AirTunes network, requiring iTunes broadcasters to login to the AirPort Express via iTunes 4.6.

The Admin Utility will also allow AirPort Express users to play iTunes music on the stereo or powered speakers connected to an AirPort Express from computers connected by Ethernet cables.

In the developer documentation, Apple notes that the AirPort Express does not support powered USB speakers.

AirPort 4.0 will be released next month, alongside shipping versions of the AirPort Express wireless base station.

Earlier today MacNN noted that Apple has quietly lowered the price on some of its AirPort Extreme products. The AirPort Extreme base station dropped $50 in price to $199, while AirPort Extreme internal networking card shed $20 bucks of cost and is now available for $79.