AirPods are a fantastic set of earbuds built for avid Apple users looking for a convenient solution to truly-wireless audio, but they could be even better with some refinement. Apple has released a few different kinds of AirPods since the first iteration of the headphones back in 2016, but they all have similarities. Interestingly, the tech company developed the lineup to solve a problem that Apple itself created by removing the headphone jack. Through the iPhone 6S series, every iPhone was designed with a headphone jack, but the iPhone 7 and later forewent the port to preserve water resistance and save space. For that reason, there was a market for wireless earbuds, and Apple was prepared to dominate it with the AirPods.
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The first thing most people think of when they hear the word ‘AirPods’ is the image of tiny and sleek white earbuds. However, the lineup of headphones is significantly more complex than that image. Apple continues to sell the second and third-generation AirPods, which resemble the classic Apple in-ears that shipped with iPods and iPhones for decades. It also sells the AirPods Pro, an upgraded version that utilizes soft earbud tips to create a firm seal around the ear. This makes some of the more unique features of the AirPods Pro possible, like noise cancellation and transparency mode. Aside from the in-ears, the company also sells an over-ear pair of headphones that bears the AirPods branding — the AirPods Max. Unfortunately, all of these headphones have flaws, but they could be made even better if corrected.
The selling point of the AirPods is their convenience with items in the Apple ecosystem. AirPods pair instantly with a nearby Apple device when the case lid is opened and automatically pair to any device under the same iCloud account as other connected devices. The earbuds don’t always make the right connections, though, and it can be extremely frustrating in daily use. By default, AirPods automatically switch between connected devices in the same iCloud account based on which device is being used. This means that if someone is typing on their MacBook and listening to music on their iPhone, the AirPods might constantly switch between the two devices. If users could turn the feature off, it could be a life-saver. Apple could develop software that automatically switched between devices based on a given action — for example, prioritize media over other actions — it could make AirPods more convenient.
Sound Quality & Battery Life Could Be Better
Apart from software changes, some hardware decisions could make it easier for AirPods users to continue using their devices long-term. The most apparent is the battery, which is impossible to replace without destroying the earbuds. The device’s repairability might not be something that most users think of on their feature wish-list, but since AirPods are truly wireless, it’s a big deal. The lineup of AirPods in-ears is rated for 4.5-6 hours of listening time, which can be extended to 24-30 with the charging case, depending on the model. This isn’t bad out of the box, but batteries degrade over time, so AirPods users often find themselves wanting more battery life months or years down the road. Apple might not be able to make AirPods more repairable, but increasing the battery capacity through hardware or software elements might make the earbuds last longer.
Sound quality is another area that could be improved on future sets of AirPods. Apple now offers lossless audio on their Apple Music streaming platform, so it would be beneficial to have better-sounding audio on the earbuds. Unfortunately, since AirPods are still Bluetooth devices, they are limited by that standard and can never achieve true lossless sound quality. However, other companies have developed different audio codecs that maximize the quality that Bluetooth can provide. Sony, for example, has developed the LDAC codec — which offers the best sound quality of any Bluetooth codec — for its headphones. If Apple were to build their own high-quality audio codec, even casual listeners would likely notice a difference. The AirPods are fabulous all-around headphones for the price, but a few changes could make them stand out more against the competition.