I may write about technology for a living, but I’m not always quick to embrace a new technology or product that’s otherwise sweeping the nation. And a pretty good example of that involves the Apple AirPods.
Apple first introduced its wireless earbuds in 2016, at which point the AirPods became seemingly ubiquitous, landing in just about everyone’s ears but mine. “What a silly fad,” I thought. “Those stems dipping down from people’s ears look ridiculous,” I sneered. “Why spend $159 — one hundred and fifty-nine American dollars! — on earbuds when Apple includes a wired pair of EarPods with your iPhone?” I observed. “These people are fools,” I concluded.
Friends, I am here to tell you that the real fool is me.
I now own a pair of AirPods and use them regularly. It is safe to say that at this point that I will never go back to wearing wired earbuds with any future smartphone, not if I can possibly help it. And if you, like me, ever looked at AirPods with a skeptical eye, I’m here to tell you now to rethink your position.
My road to AirPod enlightenment began in part because Apple pushed me toward it. First, the company dropped the headphone jack from its phones, starting with the iPhone 7. That meant you could either plug in a pair of Lightning-based headphones into the lone port on the bottom of the iPhone or charge your phone, but you couldn’t do both at the same time. Fine — I’m up for a challenge. I persisted in using wireless earbuds.
In the meantime, Apple continued to fine tune its AirPods lineup, replacing the original model. It also rolled out the AirPods Pro, bringing active noise cancellation to the party. Still, I was unmoved.
Of course, at the same time, my devotion to Apple’s wired earbuds was beginning to fray, which was fitting given how easily the EarPods fray after normal wear and tear. Removing my iPhone from my pocket, pulling the EarPods out of the headphone jack or Lightning port — these are normal, everyday activities that nevertheless pull and strain the EarPods’ cables. Eventually, some permanent damage is done and sound quality suffers.
My last pair of EarPods suffered that kind of damage to the point where there would be an audible popping noise anytime I shifted my weight or took a step or made any movement, sudden or otherwise. But if I stayed motionless — just the way you should when listening to music and podcasts — the audio quality was just fine.
I’d like to say that’s what pushed me to upgrade to AirPods. Or that it was the realization that spending $19 a pop to replace my damaged wired EarPods every so often was adding up. Or even that it was cruel Apple, refusing to include new earbuds with the iPhone 12, that finally forced my hand. But it wasn’t any of those things.
It was my wife, who bought me a pair of AirPods for Father’s Day. She apparently got tired of the sight of me, working in the kitchen as my earbuds’ cable caught on something, yanking the EarPods out of my ears. Who knew that howls of pain and outrage could produce such a thoughtful gift?
A month into my AirPods experience, I like most of what I’ve seen and heard. Pairing the earbuds to my iPhone is remarkably simple, and it takes only a minimum of fuss to switch them over to my Mac. I don’t have the best hearing in the world, but audio comes through loud and clear on the AirPods; certainly, I have not missed the hisses, pops and unbalanced audio from a pair of EarPods with a cable damaged from overuse.
I still have concerns, though. I am notorious for leaving things like headphones in my pockets and then remembering they are there only after running them through a washer and a dryer. For a $19 pair of EarPods, I greet that discovery with a sign and an “easy come, easy go” attitude. (And sometimes, the EarPods survive their watery journey, only a little worse for the wear,) I would not be so sanguine about a $159 set of wireless earbuds.
I haven’t misplaced my AirPods and their case yet, but I can assure you, it isn’t for lack of trying. Apple’s adding this function to the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max in iOS 15; cheaper AirPods like mine will have to continue to make do with the Find My app. And of course, adding AirPods to my life means having to remember to keep one more thing charged, though so far, I haven’t run out of power mid-podcast.
In short, life is much better now that I’ve cut headphone wires out of mine. Now if I could only ditch the muscle memory that’s trained me to grab for the no-longer-there cable on my iPhone, things would truly be grand.