What hearables can learn from AirPods

They’re far from perfect, but they can teach smarter earbuds an important lesson
What AirPods can teach hearables

First, let's get the obvious points out of the way. You think the AirPods are silly because they look like tiny ear toothbrushes - fine, although if you ask me they more closely resemble a pair of wired EarPods that someone took a knife to, which is an improvement in my books. Second, you can definitely get better sounding, and better fitting, Bluetooth earphones for this price. Third, they're a daily reminder that Siri needs work. We can agree on at least two of those points.

AirPods aren't quite smart enough to be a true "hearable" just yet, more of a gateway drug and a taste of things to come. All expectations are that the next iteration will be smarter, most probably adding fitness tracking (Apple might want to wait to get through its backorders first). But to my mind, they also get something right that no other hearable has nailed: basic Bluetooth.

Read this: Putting the Bragi Dash's translator to the test

Bluetooth and I have had a long and rocky relationship, and one that's been extra strained when it comes to hearables. As someone who's testing new tech almost every week, I'm constantly searching, pairing, disconnecting, re-pairing - oh god, why has it disconnected again - before sometimes just giving up entirely. In 2017, Bluetooth still doesn't feel like it's where it needs to be, but with Apple's W1 chip, there's hope.

The Doppler Here One and Bragi Dash have plenty of pros, but all too often, be it in pairing or just holding a connection, Bluetooth falls down. Sometimes it's dropouts; sometimes I mysteriously cannot make a connection at all.

The AirPod experience on the other hand is seamless, finding a connection instantly, pausing/resuming music as I take them out/put them in my ears, and syncing across multiple devices. They're convenient to a point where I can overlook some of the other faults - sound quality, shape, sound passthrough. While they lack the augmented audio smarts of Doppler's Here One, or the fitness abilities of the Jabra Elite Sport or Bragi Dash, Apple's year-zero hearable lays a sturdy foundation to build on. It sets a strong example by just... working. Tim Cook calls it "magic". It's not witchcraft, Tim, but I'll agree it's rather elegant.

What Apple's AirPods get so right about hearables

Android phones don't get all of the same benefits, mind you, but they still work great together, and so far, no spontaneous disconnections. It surprises me how often this still happens with hearables and Bluetooth earphones, and how easily it can make me want to bin them when it does.

But hearables need to be better than that to win people over. If they're not, we'll just keep using our superior-sounding, but dumber, headphones.

One of my favorite features of the Doppler Here One is how well its audio passthrough works, and with just a tap on the bud I can hold a conversation with them still in my ears. AirPods have a natural passthrough - it's called not having noise isolation. But if Apple is going to take the hearables space seriously - and all signs say it is - then this is something it will need to think about too.

Suffice to say, AirPods need work. Apple might also want to reconsider how we use Siri on them; asking her to turn the volume up and down is a convoluted process to say the least. Having a smart assistant in our ears feels like an inevitability, but it needs to be actually useful.

Still, as far as hearables go, the AirPods are a less in being effortlessly simple. So yes, I welcome these tiny ear hairdryers with hope that they'll at least inspire other hearables to get more of the basic things right.


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