This past year there has been one product that seems to slowly started appearing more and more in the everyday life of people. Even those who refuse to become users of this product still see it around everywhere. Walking to work, working out at the gym, and even in the library, this is one thing that you are sure to see anywhere; Airpods. Everyone knows what Airpods are, Apple’s ‘new’ wireless headphones that everyone seems to have. Although they are small, they are still visible, and taking a look around Boston College’s campus, you see numerous users. This product is dominating the wireless headphone market, but why? And what does this mean for the future?
A lot of people tend to still think of Airpods as a new product, but they were originally announced in September 2016, alongside the iPhone 7, and were released in December 2016. When Airpods were first announced, they immediately received ridicule. Internet memes claiming that they would “fall out and vanish” or that they were “so small it would be impossible not to lose them” were circling social media websites fast. However fast-forward to the holiday season of 2018 and they are one of the top selling products. Not only did Airpods go from being laughable to being desired, but they are considered a luxury item and now memes about users finding them ‘braggable’ are circling the internet.
By September 2017 Airpods scored a 98% customer satisfaction rate. Airpods enable users to listen to music and make phone calls wirelessly, like numerous other wireless headphones. However, they also “provide deeper integration with Apple’s product ecosystem”, including a seamless pairing process, easy access to Siri and a longer wireless range when paired to Apple products, according to an article posted in 2017 by Forbes Magazine discussing some projections for the innovative product. The Airpods are able to detect when they are in the ears of the user and when they are not, which allows for them to automatically pause the audio when one is removed. Apple promises that these earbuds have a five hour battery life, and they come with a case that serves as a portable charger. And the pairing of one device will ensure that they automatically pair with all of your Apple devices via the cloud. They are easy to use, especially for customers who already use Apple products.
Announcing the Airpods, at the same time as Apple introduced the first iPhone without a headphone jack, presumably makes the product easy to cross-sell to users. Airpods sales helped Apple’s wearable segment, which also includes the Apple Watch and Beats, reach $10 billion in revenue between 2017 and 2018. To put it simply, Airpods are a success. They work well, customers are satisfied with them and they are dominating sales of wireless headphones. But what does this mean for the future?
There have been many rumors as to what the Airpods 2 entail, including wireless charging, health monitoring and a black color offering. But I am more concerned with what this has to do with the future of society, and less of the improvements Apple is planning for the future. Although such a small product, two earbuds in a small box, they have the ability to change the way people interact with machines and one another.
After having them in for a few minutes, users almost lose the sensation that they are wearing anything at all. Without the hassle of being tied to your device by a tangled white cord, you are able to get up and move around without having to physically bring your device with you. With the Airpods in users can be listening to music, on a call, or pose a request to Siri without physically having their phone, as long as they are in the bluetooth range. This allows users to be connected to their phone without actually being tethered to the physical product. Not to mention how the ability to converse with an A.I. powered voice assistant through earbuds simply by double tapping the device, is what really sets Airpods apart from other headphones. All these things put together is what makes Airpods more than just wireless headphones, they are essentially the first computer in your ear.
While it is cool to think about having so much information available through your earbuds at anytime, I can only wonder how this will affect the way people interact with one another. Today, having earbuds in is a signal to others that you are occupied, either on a call or listening to music. Wearing earbuds while not listening to anything is a sign of inner focus, closing yourself off to conversations. These earbuds act as a do-not-disturb sign for each individual person. It’s a way to tune out the world around you and ensure you will avoid conversations. There is a social faux-pas associated with interrupting someone with earbuds in to engage in a conversation, and it is almost guaranteed that nobody will interrupt you for too long while you are using them.
The Wall Street Journal posted an interesting article about the fact that people use Airpods as a ‘cloak of invisibility’. Check it out here!
With Airpods being so comfortable and easy to leave in for mass amounts of time, if people start to wear them more and more often, what will happen to conversations amongst people? Just walking around campus and running into a friend wearing Airpods eliminates the potential conversation you may have had. If in the future users begin to constantly keep these earbuds in, what will happen to conversations in general? Will there ever be a time, in the distant future, where people stop conversing with the people around them all together?