How Ap­ple can im­prove its AirPods

The AirPods look a lit­tle funny, but Ap­ple can im­prove more than just the design, ar­gues Caitlin McGarry

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

Ap­ple’s AirPods launch wasn’t ex­actly smooth. A months-long de­lay led to ru­mours as to why that de­lay hap­pened – could it be that the Bluetooth ac­ces­sory Ap­ple de­signed as the per­fect com­ple­ment to its head­phone jack-free iPhone 7 wasn’t ready for prime time? But Ap­ple started ship­ping AirPods in late De­cem­ber, just be­fore the hol­i­days, and has since cap­tured 26 per­cent of the wire­less head­phone mar­ket. Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook said the ear­phones are a “run­away suc­cess” and that Ap­ple is mak­ing them as fast as pos­si­ble.

We love our AirPods. We wear them to make phone calls, lis­ten to pod­casts on the un­der­ground, and to lis­ten to playlists while work­ing out both in­doors and out­side. They fit per­fectly and pair seam­lessly to my iPhone (and to my MacBook Air and Ap­ple TV). Tak­ing one AirPod out – which pauses what­ever we’re lis­ten­ing to in or­der to bet­ter hear sta­tion an­nounce­ments – then putting it back in to re­sume play­back, is pretty de­light­ful. The charg­ing case is mag­i­cal and trav­els with me wher­ever e go. AirPods are, to be hon­est, a far bet­ter prod­uct than we ex­pected.

But there are three things we don’t love about the AirPods – three huge ar­eas of im­prove­ment that Ap­ple is hope­fully work­ing on as we speak.

We need to talk about Siri

One of the big­gest selling points is in­te­gra­tion with Siri. With a dou­ble-tap on one of your pods, Ap­ple’s voice as­sis­tant can eas­ily per­form a num­ber of tasks for you – at least in the­ory.

In prac­tice, Siri is very slow to re­spond, and not more con­ve­nient than just per­form­ing the task your­self. For in­stance, Siri can con­trol your mu­sic through the AirPods, but when you ask to turn up the vol­ume (be­cause there are no phys­i­cal vol­ume con­trols on ei­ther pod), you have to play a wait­ing game – first for Siri to re­spond, which pauses your mu­sic, then for the vol­ume to in­crease, then do­ing the whole process again if Siri’s two-notch vol­ume in­crease wasn’t enough. Siri needs to be­come faster and more re­spon­sive to be truly use­ful when it comes to mu­sic play­back, which is mostly what we use AirPods for.

Siri is in­fin­itely more use­ful in non-mu­sic sit­u­a­tions, such as com­pos­ing and send­ing mes­sages we dic­tate. It’s a shame that Siri is bet­ter at tex­ting from my AirPods than mu­sic and pod­cast play­back.

More ges­tures or phys­i­cal but­tons

AirPods could use some phys­i­cal but­tons, or at least an­other ges­ture con­trol. Siri’s au­dio con­trols leave a lot to be de­sired, but even if they were amaz­ing, AirPods need more ges­ture con­trols. As some­one who uses pub­lic trans­port every day, we’re not call­ing up Siri to skip songs for us every time we want to get to the next track on a packed sub­way car. That’s just em­bar­rass­ing.

We don’t re­ally ex­pect Ap­ple to add but­tons to this su­per stream­lined ac­ces­sory (though just one would be great), but there is po­ten­tial to add more ges­ture re­sponse.

Chang­ing the dou­ble-tap func­tion, which can ei­ther call up Siri, an­swer a phone call, or play/

pause your mu­sic, is def­i­nitely con­ve­nient (though you have to find and change that func­tion­al­ity in your Bluetooth Set­tings menu, which isn’t ex­actly in­tu­itive). But we wish there was at least one more ges­ture that we could as­sign a func­tion to, like one tap to skip a song.

We’ve mostly given up on Siri’s help with au­dio and rely on my Ap­ple Watch’s Now Play­ing con­trols.

AirPods Sport

Like the EarPods that Ap­ple in­cludes free with every iPhone, the AirPods are not rated as wa­ter­re­sis­tant or wa­ter­proof. We work out wear­ing our AirPods, just like we did with my EarPods, but let’s be real: your ears sweat, and sweat on elec­tron­ics that aren’t de­signed to re­pel wa­ter is gen­er­ally not go­ing end well.

We weren’t wor­ried about EarPod sweat, be­cause those ear­phones are free. Who cares if they short out? But the AirPods are £159, so we’re a lit­tle hes­i­tant to rec­om­mend them for ex­er­cise (de­spite the fact that they stay in my ears bet­ter than some sportier mod­els do). We wish Ap­ple would make a sweat­proof AirPods Sport model, per­haps with a heart rate sen­sor in­side, as the com­pany has hinted at in patent ap­pli­ca­tions. One patent even cov­ers AirPod head ges­ture in­put, which would be even bet­ter than tap­ping for mu­sic play­back.

The AirPods were just re­leased, so we’re not ex­pect­ing any ma­jor up­grades any­time soon. But this de­vice is al­ready so good that im­prove­ments to Siri and ges­ture con­trol could eas­ily make it a must-have.

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