Microsoft is releasing its new AirPods rival after months of delays — and it's even cheaper than expected

Microsoft
  • Microsoft announced that its Surface Earbuds will be launching on May 12 for $US199.
  • The earbuds were supposed to launch by the end of last year but were delayed.
  • Microsoft is the latest large tech company to get into the wireless earbud space following the success of Apple’s AirPods.
  • Microsoft’s earbuds have a few productivity-oriented features that make them stand out from rivals, like integration with Office 365.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Microsoft unveiled its Surface Earbuds back in October, and now the tech giant is finally ready to release them. Microsoft’s wireless earbuds will be available starting on May 12 for $US199, a less expensive price than the originally stated $US249.

The earbuds were initially supposed to launch in time for the holiday season last year, but the company pushed the launch back to spring 2020. It specified the new launch date and pricing for the first time on Wednesday.

Microsoft says the Surface Earbuds are designed to handle a lot of the tasks you’d expect from wireless earbuds, such as taking calls, listening to music, and interacting with digital assistants. But the earbuds also have integrations with Microsoft’s Office 365 software that could differentiate them from rivals. For example, you can swipe the earbuds to advance slides in PowerPoint and dictate documents in Microsoft Word.

But Microsoft is entering a market that’s become increasingly crowded over the past several years as Apple’s AirPods have gained dominance. Since Apple debuted its first AirPods in 2016, many other companies have followed suit – audio companies and technology giants alike.

But many of those alternatives are cheaper than the Surface Earbuds. Most recently, Google launched its $US180 Pixel Buds, which offer hands-free access to the Google Assistant and real-time translation among other features. Amazon also announced the $US130 Echo Buds last fall, which support hands-free Alexa access and noise reduction.

It’s unclear if Microsoft’s productivity-oriented features will be enough to make the Surface Earbuds stand out against the competition. But Microsoft is hoping that the Surface Earbuds’ comfort and design – despite the fact that they’re noticeably larger than some competitors – will make them suitable for all-day wear, possibly setting them apart from the rest.

“When we set out to build these, the goal that we had in mind was to create something that you wanted to wear all the time,” Robin Seiler, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of program management for devices, said to Business Insider. “That drove a couple of design decisions and is what led us to the unique design that we have.”

The Surface Earbuds join Microsoft’s Surface Headphones in the company’s new audio lineup. In addition to announcing launch timing and pricing for the Surface Earbuds, Microsoft also unveiled the Surface Headphones 2, which come with improved sound quality and battery life and launch on May 12 for $US249.

Together, the Surface Earbuds and Surface Headphones mark a big step back into the consumer wearable technology space for the tech giant following the discontinuation of the Microsoft Band fitness tracker. Microsoft also sells a virtual and augmented reality headset called the HoloLens, but it’s mostly marketed toward business use cases.

Seiler said that the Surface team’s background, working on products like mice and keyboards, means they’re particularly focused on how people interact with computers. That’s evident in the company’s audio strategy, she said.

“We believe that one of the key ways you interact with your device is through voice,” Seiler said. “The ability to connect through voice is super important, and so we don’t look at the audio line as just a nice attach. We look at the audio line as a future way for customers to integrate with their technology and specifically Microsoft technology.”

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