Much ado has been made about Apple’s Airpods and all of it can be summed up under two broad categories: Form and function, and pricing.
Here’s my thoughts on the Airpods filed under the same groups.
Form and function
- A lot of people complain about the lack of playback controls on the Airpods—a play/pause trigger, at the very least. I probably would too since it’s just one action that is used to simply toggle state (play if paused, pause if playing) so it seems like a trivial demand. All you can do though is double-tap to trigger Siri.
Maybe Apple adds play/pause to the Airpods in the future (I have my reservations) but or now, I wanted to understand Apple’s decision for going with just one action.Let’s work our way backwards:
a) 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.
b) You can’t trigger play/pause with a single tap since you’ll end up triggering play/pause whenever you even graze the Airpod (think about the times you adjust an Airpod in your ear).
c) A triple-tap just seems complicated. Think of how many times you’d be telling someone ‘oh you triggered Siri since you didn’t tap fast enough’. On a device with a single input method (one you can’t even see when it’s in operation), this can get frustrating if it’s reoccurring.
(At this point, you’re obviously thinking of the button on the wired Earpods. If I call a triple-tap complicated, surely the Earpods’ press-press-press and press-press-hold actions run circles around the Airpods? Yes, but Apple doesn’t need you to be sold on the Earpods the way it does on the Airpods. If you’re frustrated with the button on the Earpods, you pull out your iPhone to complete your task; if you’re frustrated with the Airpods’ tap-tap-slap-whack, you’re might end up getting frustrated and giving up on using Apple’s second wearable platform…and then resorting to using your iPhone anyway).
d) Why not just include a button on the Airpods? You might as well be asking for the next version of iOS to support Flash.
Alternatively, a double-tap has a very high rate of detection (given that it’s the only action), Siri can lead you to play/pause anyway—at the expense of some comfort to a user who is accustomed to a dedicated play/pause action and—this is key and the reason I have reservations Apple will add a dedicated action for play/pause—including a play/pause action is archaic. When you see sci-fi movies, you don’t see humans pressing a play button to start playing music, they just bark at the always-listening AI. (Let me throw this out there: I think Apple would remove the tap-tap once the Airpods have sufficient battery to support an always-listening Siri.)
- If you look back to when the Airpods were just a rumour, one of people’s complaints was that they’d have yet another thing to charge. Again, a valid concern, but what matters then is how Apple helps mitigate that pain-point and I think the Airpods handle the mitigation very well. The genius of the Airpods design is that the intent of ‘putting them away’ implicitly implies the Airpods are being charged, since you instinctively reach out to put them back in the case (where they start charging). People listening at long stretches—in a flight, let’s say—aren’t inclined to take their Airpods off frequently but day-to-day usage won’t have you listening to more than 3-4 hours at a stretch. People often listen to their audio-content in breaks. When you’re done, you are inclined to want to keep them back in the case owing to their miniature size. Additionally, you can charge the Airpods’ case while listening to your audio-content. The Airpods are inclined to reduce low-battery grievances design.
- Owning yet another accessory that you have to charge is added burden whichever way you put it. But knowing that all of them charge via. a single cable cushions the pain a bit. I carry my Mac, my iPhone, and an old pair of Bluetooth headphones to work every day; the headphones require me to carry a micro-USB cable along with the iPhone’s Lightning cable. If I used Airpods, I’d leave yet another wire behind.
- You’ve heard by now that iOS 10 extends the system to various parts of the OS and third parties can take advantage of that. With Airpods (and the Watch, previously) they’re doing the same for the iPhone’s concept itself.
- $159 is expensive territory for headphones—let’s just get that out of the way. But I think the percieved expensiveness is driven by the fact that the Airpods are being compared to the wired Earpods they ‘replace’ not to other Bluetooth headphones. Bose’s Bluetooth headphones are considerably more expensive than $159 and what the Airpods lack in sound-quality, they make up for in ease of pairing and—crucially—a better Bluetooth-listening experience. What good are your expensive, awesome-sounding Bose headphones if the connection to your phone is flaky and unreliable?
- A lot of people think the Airpods are a money grab. I think if that were Apple’s goal, they would’ve tied them in with some form of exclusivity with the new(er) iPhones. The Airpods run with iPhones launched as old as 2012.
- Lastly, I agree with a lot of what Gruber says in his recent episodes of The Talk Show. Specifically, that Apple is selling the Airpods at a bare-minimum profit margin. I think Apple would have really loved to ship the Airpods in the box but they can’t because the production cost is considerably high. You can’t preach the ‘wireless is the future’ message and include wired headphones with your flagship product; and you can bet Apple knows that.