Apple’s AirPods are fine.
They’re lightweight, they’re remarkably easy to pair with an iPhone, and they’re one of two truly wireless earphones I’ve used that can hold a Bluetooth connection without totally freaking out.
You’d be surprised at how few wireless headphones you can say that about.
Still, I’d have a hard time recommending them to non-tech-enthusiasts. Though the AirPods are better than most of their fully wireless peers, they can’t totally escape feeling like a test run.
Most of the deepest flaws should improve over time — forthcoming Bluetooth updates should bolster battery life and smooth out what connection issues are left. And while Siri is bad, it’s a larger project that Apple has plenty of incentive to improve.
There are other, more design-centric issues, though, that Apple can address if it wants the AirPods to be a more polished, consumer-friendly product.
Here’s a few I’d like to see in the future.
The AirPods' biggest problem isn't the mediocre sound, or how the fit isn't great for some, or Bluetooth's ongoing imperfections -- it's that you look like a goof while wearing them. You are not the cool dancing guy in Apple's commercials.
There are many interesting ideas and technical accomplishments to the AirPods, and tech enthusiasts have rightly praised Apple for them. But the stares they generate, and the ensuing discomfort you feel, are real, and they shouldn't be discounted. It's not a Google-Glass-level problem, but it's not not that either.
The reason this is a big deal is because it's not clear how Apple can mitigate it with the current AirPods design. The Bragi Headphone and Jabra Elite Sport don't look normal, but they don't have a bright white stem hanging off them. That stem, however, is a big part of what lets the AirPods work.
Apple seems to be hoping its sheer popularity will normalize the design, and given the AirPods' apparent fast start, it might've bet wisely. But if sales don't hold up beyond the early adopters, and a non-stem design is out of the question, maybe some more subdued colour options would help. A black pair might not call as much attention to itself.
On their own, the AirPods last around 4-5 hours per charge. That's not the best -- the aforementioned Bragi Headphone can last closer to 6 hours -- and it's not good, but it's enough for a day's commute.
As noted above, forthcoming Bluetooth updates should help truly wireless earbuds last longer, so there shouldn't be much need to bulk up the AirPods just to fit a bigger battery. What can afford to bulk up, though, is the little white case that holds and recharges them. You get between 2 or 3 recharges with what's available now -- it's entirely possible to strengthen that while keeping the whole thing pocketable.
It's ultimately on you not to lose your stuff, but something as small and slippery as the AirPods is easier to drop and lose than most other gadgets. Forking over another $69 to replace one isn't too nice.
Apple has a well-known 'Find My iPhone' app today, and a similar solution would be a good safeguard here. There was an app along these lines, but Apple quietly removed it shortly after it was picked up by the press. If Apple doesn't plan on making its own alternative, giving users no recourse to find a device that's easy to lose isn't the best look.
It'd probably result in a price hike -- or, more likely, some sort of 'premium' model -- but the AirPods' unsealed design lets in a good chunk of noise if you don't crank the volume all the way up. Giving Siri noise cancellation powers would make the AirPods more appealing for travellers, and could cut into Bose's hefty share of the high-end headphone market.
Alternatives like the Doppler Labs Here One plan to use software to block the outside world on a slider -- and they work well, if early previews are any indication -- so there's precedent. If future Bluetooth updates really do help with battery life, the AirPods should be able to hold up long enough to power noise cancelling tech without immediately dying.