AirPods face unlikely new rival
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
That seems to be the mantra that has guided the release of Apple's second generation of wireless earbuds. The iPhone maker announced AirPods 2 last month, bringing some solid new features to the beloved product but not changing too much.
They're one of the company's most popular items and have turned into an unlikely cultural phenomenon. I'm firmly on the bandwagon, but I was disappointed the pair I received suffered from a couple of annoying connection issues. But more on that later.
They look identical to the originals, but thanks to a new Apple-made H1 wireless chip, they have some battery and performance improvements. Most importantly, they provide 50 per cent more talk time per charge, which is really great if you frequently use them for phone calls.
The earbuds now promise up to five hours of listening time and up to three hours of talk time (up from two hours) per charge. But if you chuck them back in the portable case for multiple charges, you get more than 24 hours of listening time, or up to 18 hours of talk time, Apple's support page says.
Unlike the W1 chip found in the first gen AirPods, the new version supports Bluetooth 5 instead of the older Bluetooth 4.2. The new standard uses less power and offers faster data transfers.
The chip upgrade also allows you to beckon Siri using only your voice. With the first gen AirPods, you needed to double tap on the left or right earpiece to activate Siri before you could start talking. With AirPods 2, you can ask questions or deliver commands hands-free by saying "Hey Siri".
The only other notable change to come to the AirPods is the option to get a wireless charging case. It will push the price out to $319, as opposed to $249 for the regular option that has to charge via a lightning cable, but with a number of premium smartphones offering two-way charging, it's an increasingly handy feature.
Ironically, no iPhones have this capability yet but other top handsets from Huawei and Samsung can act like a charging pad, so you can juice up your AirPods on the go, meaning you'll likely never be caught with a dead battery.
You get the best experience when using them with Apple devices. For example, there is a nifty feature with AirPods that works when you pull one of the earbuds out of your ear; the music, podcast or TV show you're watching on Netflix will automatically pause. The synchronicity is convenient and super satisfying but you won't get it with non-Apple devices.
THEY'RE NOT WITHOUT ISSUE THOUGH
Using them with a Samsung Galaxy S10, I had occasional sound issues. At times, something would cause the two buds to deliver sound that felt spatially separated, giving the audio a slight echo effect.
Re-pairing the AirPods would fix the issue and return the sound to normal, but it's a problem I never experienced with the first generation AirPods. Judging from online forums, it's a problem that others have experienced as well.
They also had an annoying habit of jumping to full volume after pausing audio content and resuming the stream.
I'm hoping these issues can be fixed with a firmware update. News.com.au has reached out to Apple regarding this but the company doesn't appear to have much to say at this point.
If you do have issues, it's worth remembering that electrical devices like microwaves and Wi-Fi routers can cause interference and detract from your AirPods' wireless performance.
But even with these slight issues I've experienced, it's hard not to love the AirPods all over again.
They're comfortable, functional, and, all in all, sound pretty great. It's easy to see why they've become such a hit among customers.
SURPRISE AMAZON RIVAL IS COMING
AirPods have been such a success some competitors have been struggling to compete.
According to global market research firm Counterpoint, Apple's AirPods account for a whopping 60 per cent of the wireless earbuds market worldwide, which is a seriously dominant position to be in.
But the consumer tech giant can't rest on its laurels. Samsung has recently released its new and improved Galaxy Buds that come with a wireless charging case at a cheaper price point.
And according to a report in Bloomberg this morning, Amazon is also preparing to roll out an AirPods rival as its first Alexa-enabled wearable gadget later this year.
The e-commerce giant is reportedly readying its own version of earbuds with built-in Alexa access for as early as the second half of this year. According to people close to the project, they will look and act similar to AirPods, but Amazon is striving to outdo them on sound quality, Bloomberg reported.
Apple's brand power is such it can turn an item like AirPods that look dorky into something that has become a cultural status symbol for some. It remains to be seen if competitors can chip away at Apple's position in the wireless earbuds market.
For now, the AirPods continue to be the ones to beat.