AirPods - One Year On

AirPods, Apple's take on truly wireless earphones, have been out in the world for just over a year now. They were plagued with 4-6 week wait times right from the initial launch. These shipping delays continued throughout the year, and are now affecting 2017 Christmas holiday shoppers. Whatever way you look at it Apple just isn't able to make enough to meet demand. Whether this is because they're difficult to manufacture, or because demand is higher than expected, no one is sure. One thing is certain, however. AirPods are popular. You can't walk a block through the Sydney CBD without seeing someone wearing a pair, and it isn't uncommon for me to not be the only one on the bus wearing them. Alongside the Apple Watch Series 3, AirPods are my favourite Apple product released in years.

Now, one year on, I want to look back on what I wrote in my AirPods review and explore how my initial impressions have either changed or remained the same.

These are more than special earphones. They’re a new category of wearable device.

I still believe that AirPods have the potential to be considered a wearable device, and not just a pair of earphones. Over the last year thanks to software updates, transitioning the connection of AirPods between devices (iPhone, to Apple Watch, to Mac, to Apple TV) is more seamless than ever. If I'm wearing them, it doesn't matter if I press play on audio on my phone or watch, the AirPods intelligently will connect to whatever device is best. This has other implications, such as always being able to communicate with Siri. While wearing AirPods, I know I can activate Siri discreetly on my Apple Watch, and talk as though I was holding my phone near my face.

They haven’t once felt like they’re going to fall out and this includes while at the gym doing all of my regular exercises including running, weights, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups; you name it. They’re hardly noticeable in the ear.

It's easy to forget you're wearing AirPods. They remain as lightweight and comfortable as ever (though the comfort factor isn't the same for everyone), and despite not having perfect sound quality, the convenience of the AirPods design is enough to make me not want to leave the house with any other pair of earphones.

Although battery life isn’t fantastic for “wireless” earphones, my early usage suggests 5-6 hours on a single charge - in line with Apple’s estimates.

After using AirPods for a year, I'm convinced that the battery life does not matter. I'm not sure how long they last on a single charge anymore; it could be 2 hours, or it could be 7. It doesn't matter. There is almost never a situation in which I go more than 90 mins between putting them back in the case to charge. I've never found the battery life not to be good enough. Sure, a few hours may not sound like a lot, but how frequently are you using them continuously for that length of time? Even popping them back in the case while you visit the bathroom at work is enough to top them up for a few more hours of use.

Having to charge so frequently might sound in conflict with what I said earlier about wearing them constantly.

Still true. While battery life is good enough for day-to-day audio listening, the idea of AirPods as wearable tech won't be taken seriously as such until they can last in your ears all day should you need them to.

Siri on AirPods has been a disappointment for me so far. The way to active it is to double tap on either bud and then talk.

I've found the best way to talk to Siri with AirPods in is to activate it from the Apple Watch by pressing the Digital Crown. It's going to work every time.

To truly be free from your phone while using AirPods, a smartwatch with audio controls of some kind is necessary.

This is true more than ever. Controlling the AirPods with only a phone is still clunky, but using a smartwatch makes this a lot easier. Now that the Apple Watch Series 3 has a cellular/4G connection, the combination of AirPods + Apple Watch is even better. You can now leave the house without a phone and listen to music while walking around or exercising, while also being able to take phone calls, and dictate messages. It's a powerful combination, and having the AirPods with the cellular watch makes the experience notably better.

We've seen some small improvements in the last year to both the software controlling AirPods, and to the hardware they connect to. Improvements to the way AirPods handle connecting to different devices and new hardware such as the Apple Watch Series 3 take away some of the hassles I addressed in last year's review. There are a few improvements I'd like to see to AirPods going forward. The first is better sound quality. The sound quality of AirPods isn't bad by any means, but there are times when higher quality audio is appreciated, and not having to find another pair of earphones in these situations would be nice. Secondly, water resistance. iPhone and Apple Watch are both water resistant enough that if you're stuck in the rain with them it isn't an issue. It would be nice if AirPods were also water resistant. I've heard that they do survive submersion in water, but until Apple promote water resistance as a feature themselves, I'm reluctant to let the AirPods get wet. Finally, I'd like to see a dark (space?) grey or black colour offering - purely for cosmetic reasons. I know that Apple are unlikely to stray from their distinctive white earbud design, but the new Space Grey peripherals that come with iMac Pro show that they are open to mixing things up.