I found myself nodding in agreement with this post by Zac Hall about how AirPods purchased in December 2016 are starting to show their age in terms of battery life:
Apple rates AirPods for up to five hours usage at 50% volume, and early testing proved that rating was actually slightly conservative. In practice, brand new AirPods could last almost five and a half hours before their batteries depleted. The carrying case doubles as a charging case, too, providing over 24 hours of battery life without needing to recharge from the wall.
But batteries are consumable, we all know so well now, and that’s proven true for the tiny batteries inside AirPods after two years of daily use. Battery life that once exceeded five hours now struggles to power AirPods through three hours of continuous usage at the same volume. Battery life results can be cut in half if you need to play audio at a louder volume.
In practice, I used to never hear the low battery alert during usage. I rarely listened to audio with AirPods for five straight hours before charging in the carrying case without thought. More recently, I’ve heard the bloop sound much more regularly, frequently followed by AirPods dying before I’m ready to recharge.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately (in fact, I proposed it as a topic for this week's Connected) and I feel like Hall and I have gone through the same process. When my AirPods were new, I could listen to a full episode of Upgrade or Cortex at max volume and still have plenty of battery life left; now I cannot get to the end of an episode (roughly 90 minutes in length) without hearing the low-battery alert. My AirPods can't hold a charge like they used to and I'm not surprised.
I could buy a fresh pair of AirPods now, but that seems like a waste of money given the (possible?) upcoming release of a new model. I could buy a third-party wireless charging adapter to make charging the case more convenient, but I don't feel comfortable with an unofficial, bulky add-on case, which wouldn't fix the battery issue of the AirPods anyway. I love my AirPods – they're one of my favorite Apple products in recent years alongside the iPad Pro and Apple Watch – but I'm reaching the point where I'm always charging them, and I really want Apple to release whatever they've been working on.