What Does the Popularity of Apple’s Airpods mean for the future?

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?MMEF2

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.ios11-iphone7-airpods-paired-screen.jpg

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.

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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?

8 thoughts on “What Does the Popularity of Apple’s Airpods mean for the future?

  1. Hi Katie! I didn’t know that Airpods were actually introduced a few years ago (I guess it’s because I’m an avid Android user). Now it seems like everyone is trying to hop on that Airpods hype. It’s actually kind of funny because I’ve heard stories where people would cut their white headphones and wear them solely for the “Airpods” look. I also wonder how long the popularity of Airpods will last and what kinds of versions or upgrades will Apple implement.

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  2. The rise of Airpods seemingly came out of nowhere. Your take on how this will effect on how people will interact with each other is an intriguing one. I think the closed off effect is there regardless of what kind of headphones someone is wearing, but the fact that people are comfortable wearing Airpods for very long periods of time is something I didn’t really think about in terms of how it takes to another level. I read that Airpod sales became a huge source of revenue so I have to imagine that there’ll be a next generation of Airpods at some point that will perform even better. Definitely something to keep following.

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  3. Nice post. I liked your commentary on the social ramifications of AirPods. I always struggle with the fact that I want to be entertained as I walk to class alone but at the same time I don’t want to seem as if I’m uninterested by those around me. Calling them a “computer in your ear” is an accurate description since you can program them to change your song or lower the volume with a certain number of taps on either headphone.

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  4. You mention missing out on potential conversations/run-ins, and I wonder if people are less likely to say high when a user is sporting AirPods vs. regular Apple headphones. From my personal experience, I mentally treat them the same, but maybe others feel different? Regardless, if AirPods increase the sheer number of people wearing headphones, and are not simply a substitute for people who would already be wearing headphones with a wire, then we may have a bigger issue here.

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  5. I’ve certainly heard more about AirPods in the last month or so than I did in the year before, which is interesting, considering they’ve been on the market for some time. Their status as a joke/meme right now must be increasing sales, since it’s increasing publicity and public awareness, but I wonder how it will affect their popularity long-term. Are AirPods the next ubiquitous product, or just a passing fad?

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  6. Nice post. I’ve been finally convinced to buy some, but I think I’ll wait for v2. Your speculation about the future impact is just part of a greater trend. I remember a time when student would talk to each other after class, instead of going straight to their phone!

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  7. I am definitely someone who simply puts in AirPods if I do not feel like talking to me, so I am glad that I am not the only one who does this! I actually received them as a gift for my senior graduation, so about 2 years ago when they first came out and I first-hand saw the shift from friends poking fun at them saying that they’re not worth it and look weird to seeing them after winter break this year all wearing them. I think it is very intersting to see the shift in the public opinion towards them and how it dramatically changed over such a short period of time.

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  8. I think you bring up a great point about the potential AirPods have to distract people. I personally don’t have any, but I see them all around. When I’m talking to people, they’ll often keep the AirPods in their ears, and I never know if they’re listening to music or focused. AirPods seem to have number of cool features though like the A.I. powered voice assistant. I’m interested to see if Apple will continue to introduce more products like these to the market and how they will handle the push back if become begin to become addicted.

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