Be­ware the solo Pod­der

Wire­less ear­phones are for losers. Wear­ing just one is worse.

Esquire (UK) - - Contents - By Johnny Davis

They looked bad enough as a pair. The iPhone clones who started to ap­pear in 2016 with their lat­est pricey ac­ces­sory: AirPods, “true wire­less” ear­phones that re­sem­bled Ap­ple’s orig­i­nal white plas­tic ear­buds, with their fa­mously duff sound qual­ity but with a num­ber of dif­fer­ences. These came with­out the wire that stopped them drop­ping down the toi­let or your dog or baby swal­low­ing them, sat in your ears leav­ing a weird an­tenna thing dan­gling from each lobe so they looked like ear­rings, and un­like Ap­ple’s orig­i­nal sta­tus-sym­bol ear­phones (re­mem­ber those danc­ing sil­hou­ette ads from the 2000s? It was the ear­phones that sold the iPod, not the other way round — though ac­cord­ing to Wal­ter Isaac­son’s bi­og­ra­phy, Steve Jobs ini­tially hated that cam­paign) they didn’t come free in the box, they cost £160. Yes, £160. For one-and-a-halfinch bits of plas­tic that won’t stay in your ears and make you look like a numpty. You had to buy them — or at least a wire­less al­ter­na­tive — be­cause Ap­ple re­moved the head­phone jack off its phones.

The sight of a grown man strolling down the street, proudly “hands free”, with elec­tric tooth­brush heads glued to his ears is not a dig­ni­fied one. But lately it’s be­come worse.

The new cool thing seems to be wear­ing just the one AirPod. Solo ’Pod­ding. Do­ing the One-’Pod. Per­haps it’s be­cause of the pod­cast boom, where au­dio qual­ity is less of a pri­or­ity, per­haps it makes tak­ing phone calls eas­ier, per­haps it’s be­cause these ear­pieces are just so damn un­com­fort­able that wear­ing one halves the pain, per­haps its be­cause ev­ery­one has al­ready lost the other one. Or per­haps it’s be­cause you just can — they pair with your iPhone in­di­vid­u­ally.

What­ever: it ex­poses the sad truth be­hind the AirPod. That un­der­neath Ap­ple’s trade­mark min­i­mal­ist moulded resin — the silli­ness of the AirPods’ de­sign is surely no ac­ci­dent, noth­ing Ap­ple does is by ac­ci­dent, they’re meant to be eye­catch­ing, like the orig­i­nal EarPods were — you are wear­ing a Blue­tooth ear­piece. The tech be­hind the AirPods and the much-ma­ligned Eight­ies ear­piece favoured by trav­el­ling sales­men, Mon­deo driv­ers and Alan Par­tridge is iden­ti­cal. In true Ap­ple style, they have “re­fined” a doomed and un­fash­ion­able idea and sold it back to us at a premium.

I’m no Ap­ple hater. I’ve had ev­ery iPod since 2001, ev­ery iPhone since 2007. I’m typ­ing this on a MacBook Air. I owned a Nano. Pretty soon my kids will wake up and I’ll pair a playlist from my iPhone 8 to my Home­Pod and make break­fast. And it’s true the com­pany has taken steps to im­prove its ear­phones’ sound (it could scarcely have been worse). But I draw the line at AirPods and I draw it dou­ble at the solo ’Pod­ders. Like ev­ery other pair of head­phones you’ve ever owned, you’re go­ing to lose them. Just more quickly and ex­pen­sively. Plus, there is no easy way to ad­just the vol­ume or switch tracks like you can with wired ear­phones. Ev­ery­thing goes through Siri. Dou­ble-tap an AirPod, the mu­sic pauses, then you tell Siri you’d like to turn up the vol­ume. Just like a mad per­son talk­ing to them­selves in the street. Or The Six Mil­lion Dol­lar Man. Or RoboCop. Or some­one who’s spent £160 on a pair of head­phones but doesn’t like mu­sic.

This has not stopped them be­ing a hit. Ap­ple can­not keep them in its stores. Celebri­ties in­clud­ing David Beck­ham, Kris­ten Stewart and for­mer New York Mayor Ran­dolph “Rudy” Gi­u­liani have worn them, the lat­ter show­ing how in touch he was in the new con­nected world by be­ing pho­tographed wear­ing them up­side down. AirPods 2 are ap­par­ently on their way. More au­dio com­pa­nies will fol­low suit with their pop-in buds later this year.

Last Christ­mas, the head­phone mar­ket was made up of 75 per cent wire­less de­vices, up

25 per cent on the year be­fore. Nat­u­rally, Ap­ple dom­i­nates the cat­e­gory. The fu­ture is, with­out doubt, one with­out wires. Just like in that movie Her. It would just be nice if we didn’t have to em­brace it with a mouse’s golf club in our ear.

Alan Par­tridge, solo Pod­der

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