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Apple is betting on the future being wireless. The biggest sign is the AirPod wireless earbuds, audio accessories introduced by the company after it decided to ditch 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 easily install 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 2016 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.

Second Generation

Apple overhauled the AirPods in March 2019, launching the first-ever update with a host of useful new features that make Apple's earbuds better than ever. 

Swapping out the W1 chip for the H1 processor means it's now twice as fast when switching between active devices, one and a half times faster for phone calls, and features 30 percent lower gaming latency. Thanks to the H1 chip, AirPods now support hands-free "Hey Siri" functionality, allowing users to control volume and swap songs via voice commands, so users don't have to tap the AirPods with a finger to activate Siri in this version.

Beam-forming speakers work in tangent with accelerometers to detect vibrations in a user's skull, which gave the AirPods improved background noise reduction. Tap gestures give users the change tracks, change volume, and activate Siri if one doesn't want to use "Hey Siri." A separate voice accelerometer kicks in to block ambient sound.

 

When listening to music, AirPods give up to five hours of battery life, and the case provides an additional 24 hours battery life. With the H1 chip, the new AirPods have had talk time has increased from two to three hours. Popping the AirPods in their case for 15 minutes yields more than 3 hours of playtime, according to Apple.

Second-generation AirPods feature Bluetooth 5, which improves stability and range, especially on newer iPhones. 

In addition to a new processor chip and Bluetooth 5, second-generation AirPods can now be bundled with a Wireless Charging Case. The Wireless Charging Case is compatible with any Qi-enabled charging mat, and if desired, can be purchased separately for $79 as it is compatible with first-generation AirPods.

When the Charging Case is opened, the AirPods inside automatically connect to a nearby device, and using built-in sensors and an accelerometer, AirPods can detect when they are in-ear, and play and pause audio accordingly.

AirPods are available with a standard, non-wireless charging case for $159, or available with a wireless charging case for $199.

New Features

Find My AirPods was introduced in iOS 10.3, and allowed a user's iPhone, iPad, or Mac to keep tabs on the whereabouts of the AirPods. Utilizing the host device's positioning hardware, GPS, Wi-Fi, or other component packages, the connected device could tell a user where a missing AirPod was last seen, with a view to achieving their safe return. . 

iOS 13 has allowed a user to pair two sets of AirPods to one iPhone or iPad, allowing users to watch a movie or listen to music in tandem.

iOS 13 also allows text-to-speech reading of messages from iMessage and third-party apps like WhatsApp. This allows users to keep tabs on their messages when it isn't practical to look at their iPhone.

AirPods Pro

In 2019, Apple introduced the AirPods Pro -- a high-end version of the standard AirPods. While they look similar in appearance, the AirPods Pro feature silicone ear tips that allow for noise isolation and customizable wear.

The AirPods Pro feature active noise cancellation, a new touch-control system, and a transparency mode that allows users to mix ambient noises with audio from the users' device. 

The AirPods Pro have similar battery life, though using Active Noise Cancellation will reduce it somewhat. They utilize the same H1 chip, which enables quick switching between devices, as well as "Hey Siri" voice commands.

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