When Apple announced new wireless earbuds in September, called AirPods, the company positioned them as representing the future of audio. In fact, they were so important to Apple’s strategy that they became the main reason for Apple eliminating the headphone jack in their new iPhone 7 series, announced at the same time. The AirPods would free us of tangled cords and allow us to enjoy great audio, wire-free. There was simply no need for the headphone jack that’s been with us for more than a half-century.
Well, the iPhone 7 has been on sale for two months, but there’s still no sign of the AirPods. The biggest shopping day, Black Friday, has come and gone. What does Apple say? “We don’t believe in shipping a product before it’s ready, and we need a little more time before AirPods are ready for our customers.”
What that means in PR-speak is that they can’t make them work reliably, they’re trying to change the design, or they’re possibly having second thoughts.
Based on the reviews of early samples by the tech press, Apple may have been surprised by the extremely negative reaction, including complaints about how difficult it is to adjust the sound, the poor audio quality, and their weird appearance.
In their announcement, Apple described the AirPods as effortless and magical. They come with a case for storing and keeping the buds charged and use a proprietary chip to make pairing simple. Take them out of the case, put them into your ears, and they’re ready to use. Put them back in the case and they turn off.
But simplicity is not one of their attributes. Unlike the wired earbuds they replace, you can’t control the volume or music play. You need to double tap on one earbud to activate Siri and ask her to adjust the volume.
Cnet refers to the AirPods as “dorky as hell” and calls them ridiculous looking with the long tubes protruding from your ears like earrings. Business Insider complains about the audio cutting out and the microphone not working when answering a call. Not an auspicious beginning for a showcase product intended to represent the future of audio.
This has become another in a string of embarrassments for Apple in their product decisions and execution, beginning with Apple Maps that often provided wrong directions. The latest miscue has been the newly introduced line of MacBook Pro notebooks that have been roundly criticized for being underpowered, overpriced, and for losing many of their useful ports. They now require buying optional wire dongles to bring back the lost functionality, inconsistent with their new wireless strategy.
Once the issues are addressed with the AirPods, will people be willing to spend $159 for audio no better than that from $20 buds, and be willing to trade wireless for the inconvenience of having to keep them charged? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, for $159 you can buy great-sounding wired earbuds with audio quality that’s far superior.