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Apple is betting on the future being wireless. The biggest sign is their latest offering, the AirPod wireless earbuds, when the company ditched the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

 

Debuted onstage by Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller, AirPods look like a pair of EarPods minus the cable promises. Inside is Apple's custom W1 wireless chip, which affords a fast and robust connection while keeping efficiency good for five hours of use. It’s been a long time coming, say company execs, with the first patent filed in June 2015. With one of the motivators being the ditching of the headphone jack for more internal space.

“We’ve got this 50-year-old connector —just a hole filled with air —and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space," said SVP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio. “It was holding us back from a number of things we wanted to put into the iPhone. It was fighting for space with camera technologies and processors and battery life. And frankly, when there's a better, modern solution available, it's crazy to keep it around.”

The additional space allowed Apple to more easy instal the Taptic Engine that powers the solid state iPhone 7 home button; include bigger batteries; and remove a key point of liquid ingress, permitting the company to meet the IPX7 water resistance specification.  The AirPods went on sale in December and starting shipping the same month and early 2017.

Since their debut, Apple's AirPods have made a sizable impact on the wireless headphone market, with the audio accessory reportedly capturing more than a quarter of the market by early 2017.

One survey by market research firm Creative Strategies and Experian in May 2017 reveals 98 percent of AirPods owners surveyed are either "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with the accessories, with 82 percent opting for "very satisfied." This is the highest satisfaction score Creative Strategies has ever seen for a new Apple device, beating iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch scores of 92 percent, 92 percent, and 97 percent respectively. 

The AirPods cost users $159 and are built to work seamlessly with other iOS and Mac products. The AirPods are small, light and wire-free, making it feel like you aren’t even wearing them. Sound performance should also be top notch with beam-forming speakers that work with accelerometers that detect vibrations in a user's skull to minimize background noise. 

 

W1 Chip

Apple’s new W1 wireless chip is at the heart – or work as the “brains” – of the AirPods earbuds. A lower-power, high-efficiency chip, W1 is a bespoke Bluetooth solution slathered in what Apple calls “Secret sauce.” The AirPod’s use a simple pairing method that calls for users to open the included carrying case/recharger and confirm pairing on any iPhone running iOS 10. From there, iCloud syncs the linked pair of AirPods to other owned devices for automatic audio source switching. Reports have also surfaced that the AirPods are compatible with other Bluetooth devices via manual pairing. The W1 chip makes pairing the AirPods a lot easier than having to work through the Settings menu to pair the new headphones to the device, which makes it a lot less of a headache for users.

The W1 chip also gives the AirPods longer battery life by helping the headphones manage power better. They also allow the headphones to “know” when they’re in the ear so music won’t start playing until they’re in place. This means you can also use just one AirPod at a time as the W1 chip tells the device you only have one in your ear.

Only Apple headphones have the W1 chip, which includes Beats.

 

Charging

The carrying case that the AirPods come with works double duty as a charger. A Lightning port at the bottom of the case is used for charging the case itself, while the case can be used as a portable charger for the AirBods themselves. Just charge up the battery of the case and pop in the AirPods while you’re out to recharge. The AirPods offer up to five hours of listening time on a single charge. The case itself will give 24 hours of listening time. Popping AirPods in their case for 15 minutes yields more than 3 hours of up time, according to Apple.

Siri

Siri can also be activated through AirPods. Just double tap on one of the AirPods to launch and use Siri as with other Apple devices. Users can also set up via Bluetooth to double tap to play/pause music.

'Find My AirPods' 

Apple in its latest iOS 10.3 beta release addressed the concerns of many AirPods owners by incorporating a software feature that helps users locate misplaced earbuds through the Find My iPhone app. Unofficially dubbed "Find My AirPods," the finder solution debuted in beta form in a iOS 10.3 test release. 

Apple, of course, offers replacements for $69 per earbud, but that's a steep price to pay for being forgetful.

Apple relies on a connected device to make Find My AirPods work. Specifically, when AirPods connects to an iPhone or Mac, the finder feature queries the host device's positioning hardware —GPS, Wi-Fi or other component package —to log the earbuds' location. This information is fed to the Find My iPhone app for later retrieval, perhaps when a user realizes they are missing the left side of their AirPods pair. 

AirPods pairing issues 

Some AirPod users have reported connectivity issues, with the AirPods dropping calls on a frequent basis, ranging from once an hour to every minute, but in the majority of cases, podcast or music played through AirPods works fine with only occasional drops. 

The problem also appears largely limited to the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus, with some also reporting it occurring on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. On the other hand, some users on the support forums note that connectivity issues cleared up when they upgraded to an iPhone 7-family device.

The Future

As is typical for other Apple devices, the Cupertino firm is already working on potential changes it could introduce with a future upgrade to the AirPods. While not a guarantee that the features will appear, patents and applications from Apple give a suggestion for the direction Apple may take for the next generation of accessory. 

Discovered in March, a trio of patent applications for "Earbuds with biometric sensing" describe the use of hearing aid-like devices with extra sensors that can be used to monitor the user's vital signs, similar to the Apple Watch. Such a system could be used as an alternative way of monitoring the wearer's health in cases where the Apple Watch may not want to be worn, such as in workout routines or running. 

While the images depict compact hearing aid-like accessories, it isn't much of a stretch to imagine the same technology used in the EarPods. Indeed, the descriptions mention a "beamforming microphone array," proximity sensors, and orientation sensors, strongly hinting at EarPod-like capabilities. 

The sensors used to monitor the user vary between patent applications, but cover similar areas. One example includes a photoplethysmogram (PPG) sensor, used to monitor's heart rate by shining light onto skin and measuring variances in reflectivity, with VO2, galvanic skin response, electrocardiogram (EKG), impedance cardiography (ICG), and temperature sensors also brought up as possible inclusions. 

 

 

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