What does Apple have in store for act three of their AirPods story?
In December 2016, Apple released the first generation of AirPods. In a few months, the earbuds quickly became a status icon and Apple’s most valuable new business line.
Apple released a marginally improved version of AirPods in early 2018, but the first major iteration wasn’t revealed until late 2018 when Apple launched Airpods Pro.
With active noise-cancellation, transparency mode, sound isolation, and a slightly longer battery life, Apple built earbuds that rivalled even the most premium devices on the market, with the trademark quick and easy pairing and integrating into all Apple devices.
Apple Airpods have also been life-savers for remote workers, helping workers seamlessly shift between phone calls, working, and content consumption on the go - all while barely noticing the presence of Apple’s lightest product.
This functionality has established AirPods as the undisputed leader in premium earbuds. In fact, Apple’s AirPods did an estimated $12 billion of revenue last year - earning more money than Twitter, Shopify, and Snapchat combined.
Now, Apple is planning an even more ambitious product, one that - if successful - will give them complete domination of personal audio experiences.
The product? Headphones.
Back in August of 2014, Apple purchased Beats By Dre for $3 billion. The purchase invited speculation that Apple was working on a headphones product, but nothing materialized… until now.
Apple insiders and tech analysts have recently noticed a new product with the help of Target’s UPC scanners, called Apple AirPods X. The item is expected to retail for $399, but no other details have been unveiled so far.
Without any further information, just anticipation of a release announcement, now seems like the right time to share three wishlist items that we hope to see on the upcoming AirPods X and future AirPods versions.
These are features that could help Apple usher in a new era of audio experiences for remote workers and consumers alike. Just like Apple radically expanded the functionality of phones over the past decade, there is an opportunity for AirPods to become an essential communication platform for billions of people around the world.
What might Apple be working on to achieve such an ambitious goal? Here are a few ideas we hope to see in the upcoming X and future AirPods iterations.
A standalone operating system for AirPods has long been a”wishlist feature” for Apple enthusiasts.
Audio is a far more efficient means of communication for many tasks, and having a system designed specifically for audio cues instead of physical touch makes a ton of sense given the popularity and installed base of AirPods.
The average human can talk almost 4x faster than they can write on a keyboard - a fundamental advantage that could radically streamline the process of communicating online.
A voice-first operating system could also decrease the latency of texting, and open up new, asynchronous ways of communicating within teams.
Another feature that could improve the way people work in an audio-first world, is an LED system on the outside of AirPods to indicate different statuses.
For example, if someone was busy listening to music, a red light could appear on the outside of their AirPods - letting others know not to bother them.
On the other hand, when an AirPods user is on transparency mode, a green light could appear - letting others know that they’re open to conversation (or that they can hear what you’re saying).
In a sense, it’s like overlaying traffic lights, or even the status indicators of ‘online’, ‘offline’, or ‘away’ that were popularized by MSN and Facebook on the physical world.
When earbuds were first introduced, it was a cultural norm to not bother someone with their earbuds in. But now that AirPods users are spending more and more time with AirPods in their ears, that social cue is no longer as effective.
A new system of visual cues is needed.
Finally, imagine a world where sounds can be layered on top of physical spaces. These “hearable spaces” could amplify or alter the sounds of particular environments on demand.
For example, on-field microphones could be layered on top of the experience of watching a live sporting event - giving fans the feeling of actually being on the field with the players.
Another example could be spacial meetings - letting team collaboration be more like sitting around a table where colleagues simply turn their heads and nod to an assigned direction to start an asynchronous voice message, all without looking down at an interface or touching a keyboard.
The possible AR applications for AirPods are endless.
So far, Apple has not released an expected date of launch for their upcoming AirPods X, but Apple analysts have hinted that the device could ship as early as March.
It’s likely that we’ll have to wait a little longer for a standalone Siri OS or AR enabled features, but we may still see smaller adjustments like visual traffic lights, or a new color scheme.
Either way, with the launch of AirPods X, Apple will shift the competitive landscape of the global headphone market and enable all sorts of once-impossible voice first applications for headphone users.
Did I miss one? What would you like to see in the next generation of AirPods? Let me know on Twitter.