The problem with Bluetooth isn’t Apple. The problem is Bluetooth. It sucks. There is no open standard for wireless audio that doesn’t suck. “Open” had its chance, and they blew it.
The proprietary W1 chip brings several advantages: up to 5 hours of battery life, support for various sensors, purportedly superior audio quality, and most important, easy connections. You’ll be able to pair a W1 device merely by placing it close to an iOS device. Once connected, settings are synced to an Apple Watch, if you have one, and over iCloud to any of your other Apple devices (although Apple didn’t mention the Apple TV). You can simultaneously connect to your iOS devices, Macs, and Apple Watches and, according to Apple, switch seamlessly between them.
TidBITS Security Editor Rich Mogull was on site at the Apple announcement and had a chance to try the new AirPods. He verified that they fit similarly to EarPods, so if you dislike that fit, don’t waste your money on the AirPods. However, Rich said that they’re overall more comfortable, because there’s no cable drag. Even so, he wasn’t sure that he would use them for running.
Latency is noticeably better listening to say, keyboard clicks, than with my Beats Powerbeats 2. But it’s still noticeable.
No, the real problem is the fact that they’ll be so easy to lose. I can’t understand why Apple would release a product like this.
I don’t mind Apple’s wired ear buds, but the AirPods feel better and fit better.
I think they’re going to be an extremely successful product, and more than that, I think they’re going to create an avalanche of competitors that try to match or beat Apple at their game. This is a product that really does feel magical, in old-school Apple style. It’s a thoughtful application of a bunch of different technologies, largely learned by spending a decade building miniaturized components for smartphones. Apple wasn’t the first company to create this sort of product—Bragi has been there for a little while—but it’ll be the one to popularize them.
Without a cable, there’s no clicker to play or pause your music, but if you pull one of the AirPods out of your ear, the iPhone pauses automatically—a cue that you’re removing an earbud because you want to hear something in the real world, or are talking to someone. Pop the AirPod back in and the audio begins to play. Take both of the AirPods out and the iPhone switches its audio output back to its own speakers.
From a user interaction standpoint, I’m not sure that a double tap on the AirPods to activate Siri is such a good idea, unless they can register very light taps. To me, that’s just an invitation to make an earbud drop.
I do wish there was some gesture support on the devices for stuff like skip or pause because those are functions I use on my wired headphones ALL THE TIME. Talking is cool but sometimes you just want immediate feedback you can only get from physical contact. Also, it’s just weird to be the person in public who appears to be shouting orders to their imaginary friends.
AirPods aren’t noise canceling, but in my brief experience in a bustling scene, they did a nice job blocking out sound. On a similar note, the microphone is tuned so that when you’re talking, it filters outside noise and just hears your voice. I had no trouble talking to Siri, even in a crowd.
Let me put it this way: AirPods sound way better than wired EarPods. I know that isn’t saying much, but it’s worth noting when you consider that the design is very, very similar.
I love AirPods. They’re so good, so clever, so well-designed, and such a pleasure to use that they deserve their own standalone review. They’re not cheap at $159, but they make the $199 Beats Powerbeats2 wireless headphones I bought last year look like a joke.
No, the AirPods are an interface. They are your Star Trek communicators. You tap, you get Siri, you ask whatever [Apple] device is near you to do what you need. They’re commoditizing device access.
You, untethered from any one specific device, with a wealth of ways to access any of them. And as that interface gets less and less substantial, it will gradually fade until it converges with what we now think of as augmented reality. That’s what device integration (that is, having Apple provide all of your devices) buys us, and it’s impressive seeing how what, on their face, are such minor advances (“Hey, Apple’s made Bluetooth headphones!”), really are just small pieces on a much, much larger chess board.
I remain very excited to try the AirPods, although since I don’t have an Apple Watch I really wish they had controls—other than Siri, which is cumbersome and I assume requires a network connection. Still, I think they’re going to be a hit.
Previously: iPhone 7.
Update (2016-09-24): Accidental Tech Podcast reports that there is a preference to make the double-tap play/pause rather than invoking Siri.
Update (2016-09-30): Mark Sullivan:
Veteran Apple engineer Bill Atkinson—known for being a key designer of early Apple UIs and the inventor of MacPaint, QuickDraw, and HyperCard—saw this coming a long time ago. He gave a presentation at MacWorld Expo back in 2011 in which he explains exactly why the ear is the best place for Siri.
Not 12 percent of iPhone owners. 12 percent of consumers. For a product that Apple has merely announced, but not yet even started advertising. That’s huge. It’s just a survey, so take it with a grain of salt, but anecdotally, I get stopped almost every day here in Philadelphia by people asking if my review unit AirPods are in fact AirPods.
Update (2016-10-03): Mayur Dhaka:
Tap-and-hold wouldn’t work because the Airpods don’t actually detect a tap the way the iPhone’s screen does. It’s accelerometer picks up on the tap-tap movement to trigger Siri. Surely tap-hold could be implemented, but I doubt it would be as accurate.
The root problem is that Apple didn’t want to have any buttons.
Update (2016-10-11): Federico Viticci:
Not only are Apple’s claims accurate, I think they’re downplaying the magic going on inside their W1-powered headphones.
Apple today told TechCrunch that it needs “a little more time” before the AirPods are ready for a public release, without specifying the reason behind the delay.
Apple did not provide TechCrunch with updated launch information, so it is no longer clear when the AirPods will be available for purchase.
Update (2016-11-17): Rene Ritchie:
I’ve taken them walking, jogging, driving, even a little dancing — my living room, my business! — and they’ve stayed in fine. I’ve been out in the rain, the sleet, and really strong wind. I’ve only had them fall out twice: When I tried whipping my head around to see if they’d fall in, and when I tried some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu drills at Serenity Caldwell’s urging. Both created enough force that, when I hit at the right angle, the AirPods came loose.
Even so, this exceeded both my expectations and my past experience with wired EarPods.
Because the AirPods offer beam-forming mics that engage when they detect your jaw movement, you can speak very softly — not quite sub-vocally, but close — and still get Siri to understand and trigger commands. In my tests, they do a great job isolating your voice. I’ve used Siri in the car, around the house, on the streets, and in relatively noisy hotels and bars with no problem.
The easy pairing and switching really do make a difference too. With other Bluetooth headphones, I’d swap pairings every once and a while, but mostly stopped because of the hassle. With AirPods, Apple TV is still a hassle, because it pairs like standard Bluetooth, but everything else is a dream.
I bought some PowerBeats 3s specifically to wear with my AppleWatch 2 while running, and I've been pretty disappointed, specifically because of how poor the pairing "magic" is. Sound quality is fine, comfort is good, battery life is ridiculous, I don't care about brand, and cost is quite frankly not a concern to me. I chose them entirely based on what I thought would be least hassle pairing with the W1 chip.
Where it fails so hard is its inability to recognize that I want to play music from the watch to the headphones. It literally takes minutes, not seconds, but MINUTES, every time, to start up my music prior to starting my run.
Update (2016-12-09): Rene Ritchie:
Apple’s new AirPods would be the ultimate stocking stuffer — IF THEY WERE SHIPPING. But they’re not. That means everyone I wanted to gift them too will have to wait. Even if Apple announces them now, they may not arrive in time, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and give out IOUs in the form of cards.
Joe Rossignol quoting the Wall Street Journal:
A person familiar with the development of the AirPod said the trouble appears to stem from Apple’s effort to chart a new path for wireless headphones. In most other wireless headphones, only one earpiece receives a signal from the phone via wireless Bluetooth technology; it then transmits the signal to the other earpiece.
Apple has said AirPod earpieces each receive independent signals from an iPhone, Mac or other Apple device. But Apple must ensure that both earpieces receive audio at the same time to avoid distortion, the person familiar with their development said. That person said Apple also must resolve what happens when a user loses one of the earpieces or the battery dies.
Update (2016-12-10): Nick Heer:
What’s more curious to me about the AirPods is that this issue isn’t something I saw reported in any of the early reviews published back in September. That’s not to say that the reviewers were lying, but if this is the reason for the AirPods’ delay, it must happen regularly enough that Apple wasn’t happy with it.
“More difficult to manufacture at scale than expected” is also what I’ve heard through the grapevine, from a little birdie who knows someone on the AirPods engineering team. Things like what happens when you lose one or the battery dies — Apple solved those problems during development.
Update (2016-12-13): Apple is now taking order for AirPods. Mine are promised to arrive by December 21.
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