When Ubiquiti said no, but the Apple silicon M1 chip said yes

Ubiquiti is a company that’s known for making high-quality commercial networking products. Even if you’ve never heard of Ubiquiti, there’s a good chance you’ve used their equipment to access Wi-Fi at coffee shops, office buildings, and airports.

In 2016, Ubiquiti leveraged its expertise in Wi-Fi networking and launched a consumer-facing brand named AmpliFi. Over the past five years, AmpliFi has grown significantly and sells a range of powerful mesh-capable Wi-Fi routers at major retailers like Best Buy and Walmart. I use their Wi-Fi 6 Alien router and MeshPoint for my home Wi-Fi and can confidently say that it’s the best ding-dang Wi-Fi router I’ve ever used.

One of the “wow” features that come with all AmpliFi routers is a free and easy-to-use VPN. The VPN works by installing their Teleport app on an iPhone, iPad, or Android device and then pairing it with an AmpliFi router. When Teleport is activated, it creates a VPN tunnel to your home network.

The Teleport VPN works incredibly well, but it can only be used on mobile devices.

In March 2020, I created an AmpliFi forum topic requesting that they add Teleport support for macOS. I even made the case that there was more utility to supporting desktop computers than mobile devices. I found out quickly that many other customers wanted the same thing.

For six months, there was no official reply. Then in late September, an official reply was posted.

This feature has been requested but not approved or being implemented. The primary reason for this is because we have a solution for all laptops, desktops and other non mobile devices by using the Teleport Router to Router feature.

The suggestion that Router to Router was the answer would mean that I would have to travel with a second Wi-Fi router, find an outlet, setup the router at a Starbucks or airport, and then connect my laptop to it. It’s a complex, impractical, and unworkable solution.

The Teleport and macOS issue has been my only disappointment with Ubiquiti and AmpliFi. It’s frustrating knowing how useful and value-added a feature like that could be, only to be told it’s been rejected and to realize they don’t even comprehend the use case for it.

I had given up hope on the ability to use Teleport on macOS until an exciting thing happened: Apple stopped using Intel processors and started making Macs with the same processing architecture they use for iPhones and iPads. Apple went the extra step to make it so that Macs using their new M1 chip could run iOS and iPadOS apps on macOS. These changes also coincided with Apple homogenizing how VPN network connections work on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

I installed the Teleport app for iPadOS on my MacBook Air with an M1 chip, and to my astonishment, it worked. To confirm that it worked, I drove to another location to test it on a public Wi-Fi network, and it worked! It made my home network’s public IP address my IP address, and I was even able to print remotely.

Teleport VPN
AmpliFi Teleport VPN app for iPadOS running on macOS

There are at least a few takeaways from this story.

  1. If your customers tell you they need something, and it becomes clear that they don’t think you understand their needs, engage with them until you do. Ubiquiti is missing out on the opportunity to market a significant feature that could help set them further apart from its competition.
  2. Using forward-thinking architecture, fixing technical debt, and leveraging that architecture can surprise, delight, and remove pain points for customers.
  3. Sometimes, you just get lucky and benefit from other people’s well-thought-out choices.