'Cord-freedom' is not for everyone, but it's pretty damn good!
Ok, so Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. This was something that had been rolling in the rumour mill for over a year up to its release. Apple enthusiasts, such as myself and Nic, had previously discussed the pros and cons of this major move towards a wireless future. By the time this became reality, the shock value had dissipated... but not for the average consumer.
It can be easy to forget that the majority of society, and even our peers, aren't heavily invested in wanting to know everything about the Apple tech world, or even devices in general. So when a beloved worldwide standard such as the 3.5mm headphone jack (that has commercially existed for decades) is not to be found, an immediate online backlash followed. It was news to them.
Apple hold strong confidence in their decisions to embrace what they believe will forward the industry. Implementing new standards, even at the cost of removing popular technology, is the type of 'courage' they refer to. In these transitional phases, such as we're currently experiencing with USB-C, there is often confusion with the general end user, and conflict between tech advocates.
There has been a slow-moving progression to Bluetooth / wireless audio over the past 10 years, and Apple decided to give it a much-needed boost with the iPhone 7 and ultimately, the AirPods.
Not just wireless
The initial reaction to the AirPods unveiling, even from Apple fans, was the price tag. At a steep $229 AUD, does that justify the ability to enjoy audio sans cord? Let's look at all the features Apple packed into this portable package.
The first thing you'll notice about AirPods is the amazingly efficient set-up process. Simply opening the carry case initiates a smooth pop-up animation on your iOS device; one tap and you're ready. Thanks to iCloud the pairing is, for the most part, a single occurrence. For those inside Apple's eco-system, this truly makes Bluetooth audio a seamless experience.
Carry case? Oh, I meant charging case - it could be mistaken for dental floss, but unlike AirPods never have I actively wanted to show friends my dental floss. Apple state the charging case provides over 24 hours of juice. At the time of writing I have owned a pair for around 2 weeks, but haven't yet been caught with a charge-less case - of course my propensity for not letting devices run low is a Lightning fast habit (pun most definitely intended).
With a status indicator light under the hood and magnetic hold, inserting and removing AirPods will become your new favourite thing to do - both satisfying and functional. Battery levels are displayed on your device for not just the case, but both individual left and right AirPods. If you're running low, 15 minutes in the case gives you 3 hours of listening; just another impressive aspect.
The audio experience
For me, easily the best part about AirPods is pause / play. Take one AirPod out to pause whatever you're listening to or watching, then put back in to resume. As much as we chase bigger, better and faster with new technology, this honestly feels futuristic.
The magic of AirPods is due to Apple's own custom W1 chip, dual sensors and accelerometers. If using a single AirPod, both left and right channels are routed into whichever one you're wearing. It's hard not to make this sound like a sales pitch when they just radiate cool.
Nic first described the AirPods experience like 'music coming out of your ears' and he's absolutely right. For years the EarPods have existed; users have grown to depend on them and how they feel... but while AirPods retain the same shape they almost feel like wearing nothing at all. Instinctively you will find yourself checking to see if they're still there, but given its wireless form that's only natural.
For audiophiles and lovers of on-ear headphones such as Beats Solo 3, Apple's offering here will never meet their requirements and weren't designed to. What you will get is an extremely similar sound profile and volume level to EarPods. It's really up to the user to decide as reviews swing between stating whether EarPods or AirPods produce better quality audio.
Time to get Siri-ous
Engaging with virtual assistants like Siri still comes with a level of hesitation, as it may not be seen as a common behaviour in public. AirPods are a big step towards changing this.
I have easily quadrupled usage of voice commands and dictation since getting my own Apple Watch. The ability to be discrete with the small physical size of the Watch has then been enhanced exponentially with AirPods.
A medium-pressure double tap on either side will activate Siri; it's at this point you may as well be called '007'. Siri commands are required for changing volume and tracks without physically touching your device. While this could be deemed a regression compared to the multi-control EarPods, they are relatively quick to do.
My Apple Slice offsider Nic has been with the AirPods since day one. In fact, he was probably the first in Sydney to get them. Nic's stance on AirPods, that I agree with, is that they were made for Siri; a virtual assistant speaking directly to you without the need for bringing any device closer.
This establishes a more personal connection to Siri, and a sense of dependability. With the rising tide of assistants, most recently Bixby, the race to outsmart another is as hot as the core of Mt Doom. AirPods make me want to use Siri; and that carries more weight than what any of the others have put on the table.
On the move
I'm one of those guys that will chuck on a podcast and work simultaneously. Or peel out the Tron: Legacy OST for motivation while tackling vectors. The ability to prep dinner, check the mail or water the lawn and still enjoy uninterrupted audio and calls without moving a device is sublime.
Not being a fitness enthusiast, I can't comment on how AirPods hold up in a lengthy gym session or marathon, but I can say have been firmly positioned while fulfilling my daily exercise goal. Losing your AirPods is a genuine fear to have, but in reality proves to be less of a concern. With their classic glossy white finish and stalk, AirPods are easily the most visible option. A somewhat helpful 'Find My AirPods' iOS feature also exists - discussed here.
While Apple went to great lengths with EarPods to find an ideal shape, there were still many complaints of falling out or feeling uncomfortable; fortunately I've never experienced these issues. Even though AirPods retain the same design, the lack of cord weight / angling has proved to alleviate some problems EarPods had.
If you wrote off AirPods in the beginning, your reasoning may still be valid. The audio quality surpasses many in-ear alternatives but will not convert audiophiles. Wireless earphones have a higher price standard that is perceived to be unjustified (note: AirPods still come under rivals such as Samsung Gear IconX). Then there's the primary concern of 'what if I lose them'.
They are small and expensive, but they provide a new listening experience not heard of. Apple users will get the most out of AirPods with iCloud pairing and discrete Siri functionality. If you have an Android device / PC, the future-tech feel from W1 with auto-pause and routed audio may tip you over the line.
You need to try AirPods for yourself. Cord-freedom is calling.