In a surprise announcement following a string of daily releases this week, Apple today announced a major update to AirPods, the company's wireless earbuds. As widely speculated over the past several months, the new generation AirPods come with support for hands-free 'Hey Siri' activation, feature improved performance over the original AirPods (which launched in late 2016), and support wireless charging (using the Qi standard) via an optional case.
Posts tagged with "AirPods"
AirBuddy by Guilherme Rambo is one of the handiest Mac utilities I’ve tried in a while. AirPods connect almost instantly to iOS devices, but the process of pairing them to a Mac is not as simple, often requiring fiddling with your Mac’s Bluetooth settings from the menu bar or System Preferences. AirBuddy solves that problem, making it as trivially easy to connect AirPods to a Mac as it is to do the same with an iPhone.
The app works with a Mac that supports Bluetooth LE and is running macOS Mojave and any headphones that include Apple’s proprietary W1 chip. That means in addition to AirPods, AirBuddy can also control Beats headphones that have a W1 wireless chip. The app runs in the background as a helper process, so you won’t usually see a window or dock icon while it’s running. Nor is there a menu bar icon. Instead, once you’ve adjusted the app’s handful of settings to your liking, the app appears almost immediately when you open your AirPods case near your Mac or turn on your Beats headphones.
AirBuddy has a few settings that are available by opening the app from the Finder. There are checkboxes for enabling the app to work with AirPods and other W1 headphones and display options for picking where onscreen you want AirBuddy to appear when it detects nearby headphones.
Once you have the app set up, opening your AirPods case near your Mac causes a window to slide down from the top of your screen that looks just like you’d see if you did the same thing in proximity to your iPhone or iPad. For AirPods, you’ll see rotating images of your AirPods and their case with a charge indicator beneath them. The same sort of window appears when you turn on Beats headphones nearby.
AirBuddy doesn’t just provide the status of your AirPods though. It also allows you to connect them to your Mac with a single click. There is a Mac Today widget that provides battery status for your Mac and any headphones or iOS devices you’ve ever connected to your Mac too. It’s easy enough to check the battery of devices sitting nearby without the help of AirBuddy, but it’s nice that I can also see that the battery of my iPad sitting two floors above me is running low and should be plugged in if I want to read in bed tonight.
In the past, I’ve rarely connected my AirPods to my Mac. Instead, I used headphones with my Mac’s 3.5mm audio jack because AirPods weren’t worth the trouble. In my tests of AirBuddy though, the app works as expected every time eliminating the friction from the connection process. AirBuddy is so simple and works so well that it begs the question of why Apple hasn’t built this sort of functionality into macOS. For whatever reason, Apple hasn’t, which is a shame. Perhaps Apple will add a similar feature to macOS in the future, but unless and until that happens, anyone with AirPods and a Mac should download AirBuddy.
Rambo is selling AirBuddy using a ‘name-your-price’ model with a suggested price of $5.
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.
Every year soon after WWDC, I install the beta of the upcoming version of iOS on my devices and embark on an experiment: I try to use Apple's stock apps and services as much as possible for three months, then evaluate which ones have to be replaced with third-party alternatives after September. My reasoning for going through these repetitive stages on an annual basis is simple: to me, it's the only way to build the first-hand knowledge necessary for my iOS reviews.
I also spent the past couple of years testing and switching back and forth between non-Apple hardware and services. I think every Apple-focused writer should try to expose themselves to different tech products to avoid the perilous traps of preconceptions. Plus, besides the research-driven nature of my experiments, I often preferred third-party offerings to Apple's as I felt like they provided me with something Apple was not delivering.
Since the end of last year, however, I've been witnessing a gradual shift that made me realize my relationship with Apple's hardware and software has changed. I've progressively gotten deeper in the Apple ecosystem and I don't feel like I'm being underserved by some aspects of it anymore.
Probably for the first time since I started MacStories nine years ago, I feel comfortable using Apple's services and hardware extensively not because I've given up on searching for third-party products, but because I've tried them all. And ultimately, none of them made me happier with my tech habits. It took me years of experiments (and a lot of money spent on gadgets and subscriptions) to notice how, for a variety of reasons, I found a healthy tech balance by consciously deciding to embrace the Apple ecosystem.
Chris Welch, writing for The Verge on AirPods' advantage over other wireless earbuds:
AirPods are the best truly wireless earbuds available because they nail the essentials like ease of use, reliability, and battery life. There are alternatives that definitely_ sound_ better from Bose, B&O Play, and other. But they often cost more and all of them experience occasional audio dropouts. AirPods don’t. I’d argue they’re maybe the best first-gen product Apple has ever made. Unfortunately, I’m one of the sad souls whose ears just aren’t a match for the AirPods — and I’m a nerd who likes having both an iPhone and Android phone around — so I’ve been searching for the best non-Apple option.
But some 14 months after AirPods shipped, there’s still no clear cut competitor that’s truly better at the important stuff. They all lack the magic sauce that is Apple’s W1 chip, which improves pairing, range, and battery life for the AirPods. At this point I think it’s fair to say that Bluetooth alone isn’t enough to make these gadgets work smoothly. Hopefully the connection will be more sturdy once more earbuds with Bluetooth 5 hit the market. And Qualcomm is also putting in work to help improve reliability.
I haven't tested all the wireless earbuds Welch has, but I have some anecdotal experience here.
A few months ago, I bought the B&O E8 earbuds on Amazon. After getting a 4K HDR TV for Black Friday (the 55-inch LG B7), I realized that I wanted to be able to watch a movie or play videogames while lying in bed without having to put bulky over-ear Bluetooth headphones on. Essentially, I wanted AirPods for my TV, but I didn't want to use the AirPods that were already paired with my iPhone and iPad. I wanted something that I could take out of the case, put on, and be done with. So instead of getting a second pair of AirPods, I decided to try the E8.
I like the way the E8 sound and I'm a fan of the Comply foam tips. The case is elegant (though not as intuitive as the AirPods' case) and the gestures can be confusing. My problem is that, despite sitting 3 meters away from the TV, one of the earbuds constantly drops out. I sometimes have to sit perfectly still to ensure the audio doesn't cut out – quite often, even turning my head causes the audio to drop out in one of the E8. I'm still going to use these because I like the freedom granted by a truly wireless experience and because I've found the ideal position that doesn't cause audio issues, but I'm not a happy customer. Also, it's too late to return them now.
A couple of days ago, I was doing chores around the house. I usually listen to podcasts with my AirPods on if it's early and my girlfriend is still sleeping, which means I leave my iPhone in the kitchen and move around wearing AirPods. At one point, I needed to check out something outside (we have a very spacious terrace – large enough for the dogs to run around) and I just walked out while listening to a podcast.
A couple of minutes later, the audio started cutting out. My first thought was that something in Overcast was broken. It took me a solid minute to realize that I had walked too far away from the iPhone inside the house. I'm so used to the incredible reliability and simplicity of my AirPods, it didn't even occur to me that I shouldn't have left my iPhone 15 meters and two rooms away.
Just ahead of Thanksgiving in the United States, Apple posted their annual holiday ad on YouTube earlier today. The company's holiday commercials have become a tradition in recent years, and they tend to carry a message that goes beyond advertising the specific features of Apple products.
This year's ad, titled Sway, is all about AirPods and Apple Music. The video is set on Tuesday, December 19, and follows a woman who starts dancing and walking down a street as she listen to Sam Smith's Palace on her AirPods. The performance continues after she bumps into a man walking by and the two start dancing together in the snow while sharing AirPods. The ad cuts back to reality and the tagline "move someone this holiday" appears. As with holiday ads in previous years, Apple picked a beautiful song to accompany the video; the incredible choreography nicely complements the idea of sharing a moment with someone through music.
AirPods were announced at Apple's September keynote, accompanied by a video introduction in which Jony Ive proclaimed: "We believe in a wireless future, a future where all of your devices intuitively connect." In other words, a future that goes beyond getting wires out of the way by creating experiences that are only possible with smarter inter-device connections.
AirPods entered the world on the heels of a controversial decision to remove the standard headphone jack from the iPhone. Connecting wired headphones to an audio source is a decades-old practice we've all grown used to, and while this type of connection is still possible on the iPhone via a Lightning connector, AirPods represent Apple's efforts to move forward into a wireless future.
Though wired headphones are dead simple to use, no one can deny that they do get in the way in a material sense. We've all experienced the frustration of cords that tangle, tug, and keep us tethered to our devices. Even the most passionate wire-supporters among us are familiar with these challenges. Wireless AirPods were designed to make such issues ancient history, while simultaneously mitigating the negative trade-offs that are typically associated with Bluetooth headphones.
Technology is at its best when its net gains make you forget about any net losses. Traditional Bluetooth headphones have done a relatively poor job at this, plagued by poor battery life, unstable connections, and often, high cost. So Apple's challenge with AirPods was to achieve what its competition had not: create a device whose benefits over wired earbuds greatly outweighed its drawbacks.
After nearly a month with AirPods under my belt, I believe the company succeeded.
Update: Apple has posted an additional video featuring the AirPods called 'Stroll,' which is a longer version of the Siri video described below. You can watch the video at the end of this article.
Apple posted three 15-second advertisements featuring AirPods. Each video is black and white, except for the screens of the iPhones that make an appearance in two of the clips. All three also features the single ’Down’ by Marian Hill.
Two of the videos start with a man walking down the street of a city. In the first spot, the lead character taps his AirPods twice to activate Siri and says ‘Play Marian Hill,’ which starts the music. The second spot opens with another person flipping open his AirPods case to pair his AirPods, then immediately cuts to him dancing down the street and horizontally along the side of a car. Both ads close with the taglines ‘AirPods on iPhone 7’ and ‘practically magic.’
The third ad substitutes musical notes on a staff with AirPods scrolling by as ‘Down’ plays. The clip concludes with AirPods emerging from their case and the pairing interface opening on an iPhone 7.
These are the first advertisements to focus on AirPods. The first two ads do a great job of quickly showing off a feature then focusing on the freedom of movement afforded by AirPods. The final spot that substitutes musical notes with AirPods is more focused on showing off the product, delightfully linking the AirPods with the music they play.