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Stephen Coyle on the Reduced Bluetooth Latency of AirPods Pro

Stephen Coyle has followed up on previous tests he conducted on Bluetooth latency of AirPods. This time, he tested the AirPods Pro using the iOS system keyboard, his rhythm game Tapt, and a shotgun microphone, to measure the delay between triggering a sound on an iPad Pro and playback through the Apple’s wireless earphones and other Bluetooth headphones.

As Coyle explains, latency affects certain use cases, such as user-triggered UI sounds like the keyboard, accessibility features like VoiceOver, and game sound effects, more than others. While delayed keyboard clicks may merely be annoying, delayed VoiceOver responses are a serious usability issue for people who depend on the feature.

What Coyle discovered was that the the latency of the AirPods Pro is substantially less than the original model of AirPods. As Coyle puts it:

If it’s possible for the trend line to continue in the same direction, the next generation or two of AirPods will be very exciting. Not being a VoiceOver user, I’m unsure how much AirPods Pro improve its user experience in real terms, but I think this general trend can only be for the good. Similarly, for mobile gaming and general user experience, this trend means that what is, in my opinion, the primary downside of Bluetooth earphones may be gradually disappearing.

I found Coyle’s comment on using AirPods Pro to make and edit music intriguing too:

Their status as the lowest latency Bluetooth earphones notwithstanding, the AirPods Pro make for a deeply unsettling experience when using them as monitors to play piano in Logic Pro; there’s still far too much delay to make for a comfortable experience (and I’m not alone in thinking similar). They are, however, just about usable when editing music or video, and shaving a few dozen more milliseconds off this each generation would fast make them a preferable option over wired earphones.

As someone who edits podcast audio regularly, I’ve never considered using AirPods Pro because I’ve assumed that the latency would be a roadblock. What Coyle’s test show is that it’s time to rethink old assumptions whether it’s the role of AirPods Pro in accessibility features like VoiceOver, audio production, or gaming. As Apple reduces the latency of its wireless earphones, the use cases for them will only expand further, which is exciting.