The Future of Routers Might Look Like A ‘Jewel’ Plugged Into The Wall

It’s time for that ugly router you’ve been hiding to get a makeover.

Jul 29 2016, 11:00am

The Plume does not look like the average Wi-Fi router. Image: Branch Creative

Wi-Fi routers are for the most part ugly, something we all hide behind the couch.

In recent attempts, Google came out with its own take on a semi-discreet router last year that's still kind of weird looking—it calls to mind a coffee cup or a mini speaker. On Pinterest, there are dozens of D.I.Y. box covers designs to hide your router, be it in book covers or bookshelf boxes.

But now, there's a new beautified router created by Branch Creative in San Francisco called the Plume. This Wi-Fi router is small, compact and cordless—it is a self-contained plug that fits in an electrical outlet, much like an air freshener or a kid's night light.

They're calling it "the new the subtle icon of connectivity."

Mostly because it's part of a new generation of Wi-Fi routers that leaves the typical boxy, web 2.0 designs behind. And there are no flashing lights.

"Wi-Fi should just simply work," said Branch Design's co-founder and Plume product designer Josh Morenstein. "The last thing you need is a flashing light telling you everything is 'ok.'"

The Plume plugged into the wall. Image: Branch Creative

The Plume can connect many devices simultaneously and can cover up to 2,500 square feet of your home. With a speed of 1,200 Mbps, each pod has a usability memory offering higher speed net in the rooms you use the most. With typical home routers, Wi-Fi signal strength is strongest in the room it's in, but the Plume keeps fast connectivity everywhere with one 'pod' in every room. They say this is the first time this has ever been done for home Wi-Fi systems, and is possible because of their cloud-based algorithms.

They're taking pre-orders now and will start shipping in the US this fall (international will follow).

"We all have horrible experiences with dealing with routers; we unplug them then plug them back in again, watching their random blinking lights, hoping desperately for internet," said Morenstein.

The Plume is meant to simplify the router setup process, which allows one to plug the pods into a cable or DSL modem and start using it immediately (it does have lights and only blinks during setup and if there's a problem).

But maybe it's important to have Wi-Fi in your home or office without the need of an "ugly" router, said Nick Cronan, also a Branch Design co-founder and Plume product designer.

"The idea was to have surprisingly small, discreet objects that, like satellites in space, could beam data precisely where you need it within your home," said Cronan.

These "pods" and "jewels," as they call them, are inspired by satellites. And they're meant to float seamlessly through your home décor, orbiting your laptops and smartphones in every room.

"We worked very hard with the engineering teams to keep the pods as small as possible, preventing them from obstructing other outlets when plugged in and allowing the shipping and packaging to be small," said Cronan.

"By plugging directly into an outlet, you eliminate the need for wires, accessories and general complexity," he added. And it calls to mind the mid-2000s Apple Express, which was a white rectangular router that also plugged into the wall and still sells today.

It's not cheap, however. The Plume is $234 for a minimum, standard pre-order of six pods (each pod is $39) plus shipping. After pre-orders, it will cost $294 (each pod being $49) plus shipping.

While clear Wi-Fi in every room sounds like a dream, what if you live in a bachelor apartment? This might not be for you. The same goes for the power strip addict, who has no need for a beautifying "jewel" to dress up all the clunky cords at the foot of their desk.

But there is still time for routers to become a home design accessory—Cronan describes the Plume pods as having "elegant finishes" that are meant to blend in décor.

More of a modern, minimal IKEA design than the antiques and Victorian moulding style, this router is different from the more conventional routers. The pods are meant to work together as a system.

"This drove us to the hexagonal design," said Cronan, "a form that is clearly part of a family while still beautiful and iconic on its own."

While we still might be light-years away from routers becoming a fixture on Martha Stewart, this could be one important step. Especially considering router design and its aesthetic hasn't changed much over the past decade.

"Boxes of the past have given rise to even more boxes," said Morenstein. "While the materials and colors might have changed, no one has challenged the architecture."

But could this be the start of router pride in our homes?

"We were able to completely change the way people utilize the router within the home and how they perceive its function in their lives," he said.