I finally got my hands on a pair of Apple AirPods and they are without question the most Apple-like product to come out of Cupertino in a long time. 2016 has to go down as a tough year for Apple, there is concern among the faithful over the direction of the company. Largely in part due to the lack of updates to their line of computers and a belief that to much emphasis is being placed on “smaller & thinner” as a guiding design philosophy. And yet in the middle of all this criticism Apple has released a product that is simply personifies the very core of Steve Jobs’ Apple.
A simple philosophy. Embrace modern technology. Strip away everything but the essentials. Polish the details as to make them absolutely delightful to the consumer. In the case of AirPods the result is an amazing little product that has the potential to become the industry standard in a few years time.
Pairing the AirPods
The pairing experience is excellent and improves on what is one of the most problematic areas of Bluetooth. I have a Bluetooth radio at home and pairing devices to it is always a chore. Sometimes it will pair right away, other times it will pair with another device somewhere in the apartment, and other times it just hangs and hangs and refuses to connect. With AirPods Apple created their own pairing process that replaces the standard Bluetooth one. You simply open the AirPods charging case within 5cm of your iPhone. A pop-up message appears on the iPhone asking if you want to connect to the AirPods. That’s it. Once you’ve done that AirPods are in sync with all your Apple devices. For example you can then sit down on your computer and you can easily activate the AirPods from the speaker menu in the top menu bar.
The day to day usage
The biggest concern people seem to have with AirPods is that they might lose them. Those concerns are exaggerated, if the normal wired iPhone headphones fit you well then it is very likely that the AirPods will fit you well. In my experience the only time I would have my old wired earbuds fall out was when the cable got caught on something. With the cables completely out of the picture the AirPods just sit in my ears nice and snug. I found that you can jump around and dance, or wear them while exercising and jogging without problems.
There is also a small white charging case that comes with the AirPods. It’s a small white case that can easily be mistaken for a case of dental floss. It has a magnetic lid which is hypnotically fun to open and close. The AirPods are held in place in the case by magnets. That the case also acts as a way to charge the AirPods is a brilliant design decision because it helps to force and build the habit of always putting the AirPods away in the same place.
Using the AirPods is super simple. You can quickly pause what you are listening to be pulling one AirPod out of your ear. It’s super convenient for when someone comes up to you and starts talking. You can also use just one AirPod at a time which is great if you are talking on the phone or if you need to keep one ear open to your environment and surroundings. The sound quality is good. I’m no audiophile but I think they sound pretty good and better than the normal wired earbuds.
You can also use Siri with the AirPods by double tapping on one of buds. Siri is hit or miss with a lot of folks. I think most people try it once or twice and then forget it exists, but if you build a habit of using Siri there are some nice advantages. One thing I always do is use Siri to call people. On my old wired earbuds I would hold on the clicker until Siri was activated and then just say “Call Jenny” and then the call is placed. With the AirPods it is probably a little faster, you just have to get the gesture of double tapping down and then it’s super convenient.
Honestly not much, there are certainly not deal breakers. One thing that is missing is the ability to quickly raise and lower the volume or skip tracks. This is a tough problem to crack considering there is no wire and no clicker. Really not place to place any controls. So I understand that Apple has not yet addressed this. Currently you can raise and lower the volume with Siri, but it feels weird to summon Siri pause your music and raise the volume. Also if you own an Apple Watch you can raise and lower the volume by turning the crown on the watch, which is absolutely brilliant little touch. But the easiest way is to just reach into your pockets and push on the phone’s volume button, which you can do without even looking at the phone.
In the future I hope they can get the AirPods to the point where Siri is always listening. Just say “raise the volume” and the volume increases, “skip forward one track” and it skips forward. No gestures, always listening and able to interpret your commands, even as music is playing. I think that would be the best solution to adding more controls, much better than complicated gestures like triple tapping on a bud or assigning different gestures to the left and right bud.
The only other thing I can think that is missing … well it sure would be nice if these came in black. I think they would look cooler and be just a little more discreet. It’s certainly possible that version 2 of these will come in black. That certainly seems like a move out of the Tim Cook playbook, but at the same time I think the decision to have white headphones on the original iPod is viewed at Apple as one of the big moments in their comeback. You could say those white headphones and their recognizability were iconic and Apple could look to try and repeat that with this product.
That about wraps it up. I really like these things, I can’t state that enough. I thought they looked super cool when Apple first introduced them alongside the iPhone 7 and I am really happy to finally have a pair. It is the coolest Apple product in a long time and I can’t recommend them enough.