Apple’s foray into Wearables continue with the recently released AirPods. At first glance, this product appears to be just another pair of headphones but I beg to differ. I feel that AirPods are a strong step towards creating a seamless Apple experience. Also, AirPods are headphones that work with minimal effort due to intuitive gestures and lack of on/off and Bluetooth pairing buttons (if using modern Apple devices). They are not perfect, but definitely an impressive first step.
AirPods ship along with a case (for carrying and charging) and lightening cable.
These are truly wireless headphones as each AirPod is its own device (no wire behind the head like PowerBeats and JayBirds). The carrying case for the AirPods is great as it allows one to carry the AirPods without worry of losing them and keeps them charged all day (the carrying case and AirPods combine to hold over 24 hours charge). The carrying case uses a lightening cable to charge. For more of a review of specific features, you can read the excellent review from Rene Ritchie of iMore.
As I stated earlier, I feel that AirPods are a step towards a seamless Apple experience. You initially pair AirPods to your iPhone by simply opening the case next to the phone and waiting a few seconds for an image to pop up on the phone screen. Once paired, the AirPods are now connected to all Apple devices on your iCloud account (Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch). Sadly, this does not yet include Apple TV (will have to manually pair using pairing button on case and this is also how you would pair to any non-Apple device). This great pairing mechanism allows you to quickly switch from listening to something on your phone to any other device.
The AirPods also complete the seamless Apple experience by being the most convenient Siri Machine. This is true for two reasons:
- The microphone technology in AirPods allow you to speak more clearly and consistently to Siri
- Double tapping either AirPod quickly brings up Siri and this is much faster than using the iPhone or Apple Watch
Having better access to Siri will allow Apple customers to use Siri as a true digital assistant. Of course, Siri will have to improve in capabilities for this to be truly realized. Apple is highly incentivized to greatly improve Siri because the next tech battleground between Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft will be waged between digital assistants. AirPods will give Apple a great hardware advantage in this battle.
Other Pros and Cons
- I love the gesture that pauses audio when removing one AirPod from the ear and then continues audio when the AirPod is placed back in the ear. This is a natural movement if someone is speaking to you while you are wearing the AirPods.
- The battery life is great because the AirPods are charging anytime they are in the case (15 minutes of charging time will gain 3 hours of battery life).
- One advantage of the Apple W1 chip in AirPods is great Bluetooth range as I am able to walk around my entire home (around 1800 square feet) without my iPhone.
- Solid sound quality for phone calls and you can use the easy double tap gesture to both answer and end calls.
- AirPods fit my ears well as I can bob my head and jump up and down without them falling but, due to a one size fit all approach, they may not work for everyone. Hopefully we get different sizes in the future.
- The sound is on par and maybe slightly better than EarPods which is okay for me but may be lacking for audiophiles.
- The double tap to activate Siri gesture takes some practice to make it a consistent action.
The Future of AirPods
As I stated earlier, AirPods real magic comes with making Siri more accessible and how digital assistants like Siri will play a more vital role in the lives of many. Ben Bajarin of Techpinions in his AirPod review echoed similar thoughts:
“Creating the Siri experience to be more than just voice-first but voice-only will be an important exercise. I strongly believe that, when voice exists on a computer with a screen, it will never be the primary interaction input with that screen. Take the screen away and things start to get really interesting. This is when new behaviors and new interactions with computers take place and it’s what happens when you start to integrate the Amazon Echo or Google Home into your life as both are voice-first experiences”
As Apple continues to refine both AirPods and Siri, they need consider a world where one can leave the iPhone behind yet still be very productive using iOS. AirPods and Siri can help make this happen. Imagine going about your business and having Siri in your ear giving you information (both reactive to your commands and proactive based on Siri’s knowledge of you and the context of the situation) and interacting as you would with a human assistant. This potential future is where AirPods can really get exciting.
What I want to see in future iterations of AirPods
These first generation AirPods are a great first step but I can envision a few things that hopefully make it in future versions.
More gestures: Many in the tech press are lamenting that the AirPods do not have enough controls for things such as volume and skipping tracks (currently would have to either use Siri or the iPhone or Apple Watch). I understand why Apple only has the gestures of double tap and removing one to pause audio. I have already inadvertently activated the double tap when adjusting the AirPods in my ear (this makes single tap gestures or swipes a non-starter). Also, buttons would be difficult because you want control with AirPods to be quick and intuitive and feeling for buttons on small devices does not sound like a pleasant experience. One idea I liked came from the AirPods review from Jason Snell of Six Colors. He brings up the idea of having a gesture (like the current double tap) triggering a different action depending on if you gesture on the left or right AirPod.
Less Screen Time: Currently, some Siri commands require you to either unlock your phone to continue or you have to read the results on the iPhone screen. This lessens the convenience of the Siri voice experience on AirPods. Hopefully, Apple will role out a TouchID feature but with voice so that Siri will unlock with just your voice (VoiceID perhaps?). Also, it would be great when Siri gives you a result that requires reading on the iPhone for you to command Siri to read the results so that you do not need to access the phone.
Smaller and Lighter: AirPods are already very small and light and based on Apple’s improvement pattern with other devices (Macs, iPhones, iPads) we can expect smaller and lighter AirPods down the line. This would make the controversial design less noticeable and being lighter (along with improved battery life) would make it more common for people to wear AirPods almost as much as they wear their Apple Watch (cue the movie Her).
As I said, AirPods version one are not perfect but still very intriguing. I am excited for the possibilities and look forward to using these every day. Having no wires, easy access to Siri, comfortable fit, and intuitive gestures make this product one of the more impressive releases from Apple in years. They are pricey at $159 but worth it, especially for the tech geek.