Apple has a longstanding reputation for saying “goodbye” to popular and standardized technologies with little nostalgia or fanfare. The floppy drive, mouse buttons, and optical drives were all sent to pasture in Apple’s relenting march forward before the rest of the industry was ready to risk alienating customers averse to change. But this time Apple may be risking more outcry with the introduction of the new Apple iPhone 7, a device introduced with a significant feature absent: the headphone jack.
Accompanying the new Apple Watch 2 and the iPhone 7*, perhaps the most revelatory and controversial product revealed on Wednesday were physically the smallest: two pieces of white plastic designed to tuck inside the ear sans cords. The new AirPods aren’t even included with the new iPhone 7 (a Lightning connection wired headphone ships with the phone), but Apple is banking the future of audio won’t require anyone being tethered to their phone and we’ll soon forget we ever plugged in at all.
The AirPods look similar to existing standard EarPods, except with an elongated “tail” section, sans any wires dangling at the end. The safe bet would be guessing Bluetooth connectivity operates within. In fact, Apple decided to forgo yet another standard – Bluetooth 4.0 – instead, developing their own flavor of the communication standard with a custom chip, the W1.
All this extra engineering served the purpose of seamlessly integrating Apple’s Siri accessibility from the AirPods themselves, improving battery life (about five hours of listening on a single charge), and adding auto on/off management via optical sensors and motion accelerometers inside each bud. There’s also a custom storage case capable of charging two AirPods in just 15 minutes for 3 hours of playback, all with enough charge for a fully 24 hours of playback. The AirPods can also automatically switch playback between Apple devices, whether it be an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Apple computer, making them ideal for anyone who shuffles between the full spectrum of Apple hardware.
We’ll all have to wait until late October and dole out $159 to determine whether cutting the cords is the best decision, but preliminary reports from the peanut gallery say if you like the current EarPods, they’ll probably suit you fine.
*Yet again, no surprises or “one more thing”. The rumor mill ruined any opportunity for unexpected features being revealed weeks in advance.