It has been a year since Apple began shipping their AirPods—the Cupertino company’s first wireless earbuds—yet the product is still on a back-order delivery schedule. As we write this just a few days before Christmas 2017, Apple is showing a January 10, 2018 delivery date if ordered from their website. What is it about these audio accessories that causes them to be in such apparent high demand?
Well, they work, and work well, and Apple makes it quite easy to get them connected to your device. In fact, you do not need an Apple-branded device to enjoy them, as they should easily pair with any device that supports Bluetooth 4.0, including many Android devices. But consumers with Apple iPhones, iPads, iMacs, MacBooks, and Apple Watches will find them particularly appealing, and get the added benefit of using the Siri voice assistant for controlling them.
Apple does not describe the $159 AirPods as earbuds, instead referring to them as headphones on their website. That may be a bit of a stretch. While the overall audio quality is quite good, you should not expect them to rival the listening experience you might get from full-bore, over-ear wireless headphones, such as the Beats Studio3 Wireless Over‑Ear Headphones ($350) or Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones II ($350).
AirPods are available in any color you would like, as long as that is white. That goes for the diminutive left and right AirPods themselves—which are designed to unobtrusively rest on your ears, not plug into your ears—as well as the included mobile charging case, which can connect to any available USB port for recharging.
The unconventional design of AirPods—molded in the shape of an inverted letter J—includes an earbud-like speaker and microphone pod at the top and a roughly-one-inch-long extension tube hanging below. Among the hi-tech components inside are the custom, ultra-low-power Apple W1 chip; optical sensors and a motion accelerometer designed to detect when they are placed on the ear; beamforming microphones and another accelerometer that help cancel out background noise when used for phone calls; and tiny batteries and antennas located in those extension tubes.
All of that tech weighs in at just 0.14 ounces (4 grams, or about the same weight as 4 small paper clips) per AirPod, making the pods comfortable to wear for hours at a time, while the extended tube acts as ballast to keep them snugged against your ears and ear lobes during exercise, walks, or even runs. We have used our AirPods extensively since they were released, and have never had one fall out during the course of brisk walking.
As another benefit of the onboard tech, AirPods start playing as soon as they detect placement on the ear, and pause the moment they are taken out. And whether you’re using both AirPods or just one, the W1 chip automatically routes the audio and microphone from one ear to the other.
Apple says you can expect up to 5 hours of AirPods listening time per charge, and simply dropping the AirPods back into their charging case for 15 minutes will provide another 3 hours of listening. And the case has its own onboard battery that offers up to 24 hours of total listening time before it needs to be plugged into a USB port for recharging. AirPods also individually emit a tone a few minutes before their charge fully depletes, making it easy to not miss a beat by dropping the depleted one into the charging case and continuing to listen with the other.
After nearly a year of using the all-wireless AirPods daily, we can’t imagine going back to wired earbuds. In particular, we are enamored with using them during exercise, where we pair them with an Apple Watch and no longer need to carry a smartphone to tune into our favorite music.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.