How can Apple’s AirPods 3 compete with the Ear 1?
Apple’s AidPods have reshaped the wireless earphone market. The buds that came before them – even those from well-known audio manufacturers – were in the throes of trouble. Poor connectivity, average battery life, awkward ease of use, uncomfortable design… the list goes on. So when the AirPods arrived and just work, the fact that they don’t sound as good turned out to be less of a sticking point than you might think. They sold and sold.
Arguably, they weren’t meant to be the icon they have since become. Positioned fairly modestly as an accessory for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and their lack of a headphone jack, they received less than five minutes on stage at the 2016 launch. Now, they hold a place among Apple’s most successful products at to this day, with CEO Tim Cook stating last year that “demand for AirPods continues to be phenomenal.”
But, five years after their launch, Apple’s competitors have caught up. Connectivity issues have been fixed, sound quality has improved and prices are plummeting. There are fewer and fewer compromises to be made and it presents Apple’s most basic taste buds with an identity crisis. How does it compete with newcomers – like Nothing’s Ear 1 – that offer more, for less?
The so-called “Apple Tax” – where Apple products cost more than their comparable competitors – is nothing new. Apple fans have been paying it for years and tend to happily do so for products that perform well within the Apple ecosystem. But people are starting to demand more when it comes to sound quality, especially if they pay extra. It’s clear with the number of streaming services now offering high-resolution subscriptions, and Apple’s heads aren’t cutting it.
So, with the AirPods 3 coming out just around the corner, what needs to be done by Apple to keep them relevant? The rumor mill suggests that Apple is aiming to make the AirPods 3 something of a ‘Lite’ AirPods Pro and that they will cost around £ 199, just 20% cheaper than current flagship Buds.
If rumors are to be believed, they’ll be following their more talented siblings in a number of ways, including a more compact design with a shorter shaft, the pressure relief system that helps Pros feel more comfortable in your ears and a new wireless chip to improve battery life and range. Noise cancellation is probably the big feature reserved for the Pro audience, though the jury is out on whether the standard Bog AirPods will get the more comfortable fit offered by the Pro’s silicone ear tips.
Bringing AirPods 3 closer to AirPods Pro in terms of price and performance would be an interesting tactic. Apple has reportedly slashed AirPods production by over 25% this year as it struggles to maintain demand in the face of cheaper competition, so it looks like the low end of the market would be a more obvious target.
That said, the next version of AirPods really has to deliver performance and that may be more important to Apple than hitting a price tag. There were no audio adjustments when switching from the first generation to the second generation AirPods, making it five years without any audio progression in Apple’s more basic lineup. Considering they weren’t the best buds back then, they’ve really been left behind over the past couple of years – and that can’t be right with Apple.
The exact details of the AirPods’ internal specs are kept under lock and key, so it’s hard to be precise on what could be improved. But it seems likely that taking inspiration from the AirPods Pro would be a good place to start.