What AirPods tell us about Ap­ple’s fu­ture

Michael Si­mon ex­plains how Ap­ple could ap­ply the lessons of its wire­less AirPods to the next iPhone or Ap­ple Watch

Macworld - - Contents -

The most in­no­va­tive prod­uct Ap­ple re­leased this week isn’t the one peo­ple are go­ing to rush out to buy. Sure, the iPhone 7 has snazzy new cam­eras and Ap­ple Watch has learned a whole new fit­ness reg­i­men, but the big­gest new prod­uct un­veiled this week is ac­tu­ally the one small enough to get lost in your pocket.

De­spite the quirky de­sign that makes it look like your ears are smok­ing mini e-cigs, AirPods are un­mis­tak­ably an Ap­ple prod­uct. It may look like Jony Ive merely sev­ered the cord on a pair of EarPods, but the tiny buds are packed with cut­ting-edge fea­tures. From how they pair to the smart way they han­dle your tunes, Ap­ple’s first crack at wire­less head­phones are as much about show­cas­ing new tech as it is about re­plac­ing a cen­tury-old stan­dard.

They’re not sim­ply there to fill a void where a pair of wired head­phones used to be – we’ve al­ready got sev­eral pairs of wire­less Beats for that. AirPods rep­re­sent a plat­form for the fu­ture that ex­tends far be­yond our ears.

Pair of aces

Ap­ple has said that its new wire­less ear­buds will work with non-Ap­ple de­vices, but make no mis­take: AirPods are made for Ap­ple de­vices. As Blue­tooth ’buds they’re some­what hum­drum, but when you set them next to an Ap­ple prod­uct run­ning one of the lat­est op­er­at­ing sys­tems, they are smart enough to seam­lessly con­nect and play with barely any di­rec­tion.

That’s no small task for a Blue­tooth de­vice. Any­one who has used wire­less head­phones or speak­ers know all too well the strug­gles with con­nec­tion. Whether it’s pair­ing with mul­ti­ple de­vices or just sim­ply set­ting them up for first­time lis­ten­ing, Blue­tooth pair­ing can be as frus­trat­ing as a tan­gled head­phone wire. Ap­ple’s new W1 chip takes vir­tu­ally all of the fric­tion out of the process, with no need to deal with the

Blue­tooth set­tings or hold down any but­tons to pair with your iPhone.

It’s a sys­tem that is sure to make it’s way to Ap­ple’s other pe­riph­eral de­vices, but it would be par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive on the Ap­ple Watch. Pair­ing Ap­ple’s wear­able with an iPhone isn’t a ter­ri­ble process, but it’s still not as easy and in­stan­ta­neous as the new AirPods. A watch that au­to­mat­i­cally recog­nises and pairs with the iPhone it’s near would give Se­ries 3 a bit of the Ap­ple magic it’s miss­ing.

Charg­ing ahead

All of this talk about the wire­less fu­ture for the iPhone leaves out one im­por­tant point: You still need to plug it in at least once a day to charge it. Wire­less charg­ing is surely high on Ap­ple’s list for the next iPhone, but it re­mains the last ma­jor hur­dle to clear.

But there are clues to Ap­ple’s plan. Ap­ple Watch uses mag­netic in­duc­tion to elim­i­nate ca­ble fum­bling. The Smart Bat­tery Case of­fers a clever way to mon­i­tor and charge your iPhone on the go, and Ap­ple Pen­cil fea­tures ul­tra-fast charg­ing that sup­plies a half hour of use af­ter plug­ging it in for a mere 15 sec­onds. AirPods take these steps a bit fur­ther, in­cor­po­rat­ing both the porta­bil­ity of the case and the quick charg­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the pen­cil into a sim­ple, svelte, pack­age.

True wire­less charg­ing – that is, so­lar, ki­netic or ra­dio waves that al­low for con­tin­u­ous us­age – is a way off, but Ap­ple is clearly mov­ing to­ward a mech­a­nism that al­lows the iPhone to charge with­out phys­i­cally in­sert­ing a Light­ning ca­ble. And

an AirPods-like sys­tem that uses a por­ta­ble quickcharg­ing sta­tion to beams power to the iPhone through­out the day would be the next best thing.

The road ahead

But while the iPhone and Ap­ple Watch are cer­tainly poised to take ad­van­tage of AirPods’ in­no­va­tions, the po­ten­tial im­pact on the prod­ucts Ap­ple is still de­vel­op­ing is even more in­trigu­ing.

Along with mu­sic and phone calls, AirPods also put Siri in your ear, inch­ing Ap­ple’s smart ser­vant closer to be­ing your ev­ery­where as­sis­tant. It’s an­other piece of the larger au­dio plan: with Hey Siri, Ap­ple Watch, Ap­ple TV and now AirPods, Siri is no longer an iPhone fea­ture, it’s the cen­tre­piece of the larger ecosys­tem. The next step is bring­ing it to an al­ways-on home de­vice like Ama­zon did with Alexa on the Echo (pic­tured).

But the golden goose here is the Ap­ple Car. Not only are there in­trigu­ing im­pli­ca­tions for the charg­ing and con­nec­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but AirPods’ sen­sor­based smarts of­fer a peek into the level of in­te­gra­tion Ap­ple could pro­vide. If you’re lis­ten­ing to a song on your iPhone or Ap­ple TV, the car could in­stantly con­tinue the mu­sic un­in­ter­rupted, or au­to­mat­i­cally lower the vol­ume if the per­son sit­ting in the pas­sen­ger seat strikes up a con­ver­sa­tion. Or if you tend to call

your sig­nif­i­cant other at a cer­tain point on your way home from work, it could of­fer to dial for you when you get there. There are small fea­tures for sure, but they’re the kind of de­tails that will set an Ap­ple Car apart from the Tes­las and Leafs of the world.

Some­thing in the air

The re­moval of the head­phone jack gave Ap­ple a rea­son to in­tro­duce them, but AirPods are not go­ing to be an iPhone ac­ces­sory for long. The prospect of full in-ear in­de­pen­dence is likely years away, but some of Ap­ple Watch’s fit­ness func­tions could make their way to the AirPods in the sec­ond or third gen­er­a­tion. Add a cel­lu­lar chip to Ap­ple Watch and sud­denly the iPhone is no longer AirPods’ best com­pan­ion.

Ap­ple’s AirPods don’t need to be big sell­ers to make an enor­mous im­pact. As Jony Ive said in the in­tro­duc­tory video, “We are just at the be­gin­ning of a truly wire­less fu­ture,” and Ap­ple’s first move is a bold new push into au­dio. The AirPods will evolve, but the core con­cepts – ef­fort­less pair­ing, seam­less in­te­gra­tion and smart con­trols – rep­re­sent a new plat­form for Ap­ple’s de­vices.

For the first time, wire­less isn’t so much about the ug­li­ness of cords. It’s about what can be ac­com­plished when you elim­i­nate the things that are keep­ing us tied down.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.