One of Albert Einstein’s most memorable quotes was “Make everything as simple as possible … but no simpler.” When Apple’s new AirPods were announced, I at first believed that we‘d found a good example of he was meant by “no simpler.”
I’m not a technology editor or blogger at a major publication so I have not received a preview set of Apple’s new wireless, Bluetooth-driven AirPods (made more necessary now by Apple’s headphone jack-less iPhone 7’s). My “review” here will be based on my first impressions of the product roll-out, how I feel about the unconnected, separate-earbud format; and my level of desire to drop $159 to obtain them.
In doing a bit of research, I came across Conan O’Brien’s ad spoof video that I believe will save me several many keystrokes and words to describe that “first impression” in my head when I first saw the introductory Apple keynote. This is pretty funny and spot on…
Now, actual reviews have noted that the AirPods fit as well as the previous ear-bud-pod version, so the comedic theme of the ad is a little off-base. What I find interesting about the spoof is how odd and sort of dumb the buds look without the cord. The iconic original ads made the swaying, flopping cord a fun part of the kinetic images and footage.
Without the cord, the white wireless earbuds have been compared unfavorably to … well, any sort of white thingy sticking out of your ears or face …
This is where I had my first thoughts of over-simplification. Did they take away too much? They should have kept the wire, just connect the two buds together directly. I like the way my PowerBeats™ fit and work, with the cord draped behind my neck and the ear “clips” holding the earpieces firmly in place. I’ve got volume and mute controls on the cord. Bluetooth pairing is relatively straightforward. The occasional charging process is fine. The sound is good. The tethering cord and the earclips make them easy to find and dig out of a gym bag.
The “connected” AirPods would end up looking something like this product from Spigen creates … except you would still presumably have the play/pause and volume controls available on the cord.
Looking at this promo image, I envisioned new Apple ads in the iconic “dancing silhouette” style, with the strap flapping behind the dancer’s neck but allowing them to flip and twist and perform other Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo moves without fear of getting tangled in the cord between their ears and iPod.
And then … Wires and jacks happened
When I started this post, I intended to end it there … to conclude that Apple had out-thought itself and over-simplified a product. They look silly, seem easy to lose and difficult to control when, for instance, someone approaches you and you’d like to pause or control the volume.
But as I often do, I saved a draft until I had time to wrap it up. During that time, I used my PowerBeats … my iPhone 6 … my traditional, current-generation EarPods. Now knowing that AirPods are “out there,” suddenly …
The tethering cord on my PowerBeats started to rub on my neck a bit more while running.
My PowerBeats earclips kind of started to pinch a little.
Plugging in my PowerBeats to charge alongside my electric shaver seemed weird.
The frustrating process of un-tangling an EarPod cord became slightly more blood pressure-inducing.
I remembered how many times I’ve scrambled to find a set of headphones, even with the “findable” cord.
The dental-floss charging case seems like something I could keep close to my keys and wallet (and … of course … my iPhone) to grab each morning before heading out. As opposed to stuffing a wad of headphone cord into my pocket.
Maybe a world without any wires won’t be so bad. Perhaps in an effort to create a design that is as simple as possible, Apple has found a safe threshold of “no simpler.”
The $159 verdict
Alright … I will probably get a pair of these, with my ($199) PowerBeats as a backup for situations where I may need better sound and/or better in-ear security. Or I may have a pair of one of these to sell you on eBay someday. That’s over $350 in wireless freedom, so I had better make the most of it. Time to step up the workout routine, load up on podcasts and audiobooks, become a Siri-driven android (apologies for the reference) and join the masses of white-ear-thingy-wearers.
I remain concerned about sound quality, lose-ability (or at best, forget-ability) paired with the expense of having a backup pair, and lack of controls. I’m sure once I have these in my hands, some of those concerns will go away.
Kudos to Apple for keeping things simple. I thought I gotcha this time, proving that maybe this time you went beyond Einstein’s “no simpler.”