Sunday, February 25, 2018

KGI: Apple to release over-the-ear headphones later this year →

Benjamin Mayo for 9to5Mac:

KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo today reports that Apple will release ‘high-end over-ear’ headphones in late fall ‘at the earliest’. Apparently featuring an all new design, it sounds like this is not a successor to the Beats Studio 3, but it will be Apple’s AirPods equivalent for premium over-ear headphones.

Very interesting. It’s looking like Apple will continue to make their presence known in this market alongside Beats. While I love over-the-ears, I’d be more interested in an in-ear variant of AirPods. Think BeatsX, but without the wire. I purchased BeatsX for use while drumming, and while they are pretty impressive, I could do without the wire. In-ear AirPods would be perfect for this, as the current ones don’t provide a seal in the ear canal needed for drumming. Not to mention, they fall out with ease from all the movement, but I digress.

The main question for Apple-branded over-the-ears is: how will these differentiate from the Beats Studio line? I can think of a few things:

  1. The sound profile will be different and less bassy than Beats are known for. Apple would go for a more neutral sound like AirPods and HomePod.
  2. Another way that would be in line with AirPods would be a unique charging mechanism. Perhaps Apple would include a headphone stand that also charges the headphones wirelessly (read: induction charging) when simply placed on the stand.
  3. Touch sensitivity for controlling music playback (i.e. volume, track skipping, etc.) since there is ample surface area available, unlike AirPods. [Parrot Zik headphones](https://www.parrot.com/us/audio/parrot-zik-3# parrot-zik-3) have this kind of functionality.

As for what they would call it? I don’t know, ‘HeadPod’ sounds strange. Maybe AirPods Plus? Definitely has to be somethingPod.

Friday, February 23, 2018

AirPower wireless charging mat may launch next month →

Chance Miller for 9to5Mac:

According to a new report from Macotakara, Apple is on schedule to begin selling AirPower sometime in March through its own retail stores, as well as resellers such as Best Buy.

The report doesn’t offer a specific release date, with the blog’s source only saying that the release will occur sometime next month.

On price:

Pricing details remain unclear for AirPower. A Polish retailer listing back in November suggested that the wireless charging mat could be priced at $199, but as we noted at the time, it’s unlikely that the retailer would have inside knowledge of how Apple plans to price its unreleased product.

$199 sounds like way too much, even for Apple. $149 sounds more realistic for them, while $99 sounds like a pipe dream. I’d find it really hard to justify purchasing for anything upwards of $149.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Apple reportedly plans AirPods upgrades →

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:

Like with its mobile devices — the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch — Apple intends to frequently update the AirPods with new hardware features. The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is working on a new version for release as soon as this year with an upgraded wireless chip, the people said. A subsequent model for as early as next year is planned to be water resistant, they added, asking not to be identified discussing private product plans.

The model coming as early as this year will let people summon Apple’s Siri digital assistant without physically tapping the headphones by saying “Hey Siri.” The function will work similarly to how a user activates Siri on an iPhone or a HomePod speaker hands-free. The headphones, internally known as B288, will include an upgraded Apple-designed wireless chip for managing Bluetooth connections. The first AirPods include a chip known as the W1, and Apple released the W2 with the Apple Watch last year.

A new W-series chip and “Hey Siri” are part of my wishlist for new AirPods, so I’m happy to see these features in the report.

Sounds like water resistance is still an additional product cycle out, but I’ve never had any issues with light rain or sweat while using the current AirPods.

There’s no hard launch date here from Gurman, but my guess is this fall to meet the holiday shopping season. On a related note, we’re still awaiting the release of Apple’s AirPower mat and standalone wireless charging case for AirPods. I really hope we see these sooner than fall, as I’m itching to ditch the rat’s nest of cables on my nightstand.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

AirPods 2 Wishlist

I love AirPods, as you may be able to glean from my official review. They are a product everyone expected Apple to make, but their astounding quality and value took everyone by surprise (yours truly included). So much so that Apple can’t make them fast enough, being virtually out of stock since launching in December 2016. Shipping time was finally down to a few days recently, only to be pushed out again do to the holiday shopping season. Suffice it to say, AirPods have been a massive sleeper hit.

I’m still blown away by how amazing these little things are. That said, here’s how I think Apple can iterate for AirPods 2.

Read on

Monday, November 20, 2017

Pixel Buds sound like more bad design work by Google →

Sam Machkovech for Ars Technica wrote a great review on what sounds like a bad product — the new Pixel Buds, Google’s challenge to AirPods. As I started pulling out quotes to comment on, the common theme we as obvious — Pixel Buds sound like they are badly designed. I haven’t played with them myself, but I can see a trend emerging.

Design isn’t just about looks. It’s about the trade offs you have to make to accommodate underlying function. Here’s a quick parallel before we get into Sam’s review:

AirPods

No touch controls. You can set each pod to perform one function via double-tap. The choices are: Siri, Play/Pause, Next Track, or Previous Track. The input is recognized by a built in accelerometer, not a touch-sensitive pad. By the way, here’s my AirPods review if you haven’t read it.

Trade offs: while there is no way to have access to all functions at once directly from AirPods, the result is a nicer-looking earbud (in my opinion) that doesn’t get in the way. Most of the time, other people don’t even realize I’m wearing mine.

Pixel Buds

On the other hand, one Pixel Bud does have a touch sensitive surface for playback control via gestures.

Trade offs: while you do have access to all playback controls, you have these gaudy, circular pads sticking out of your ear that can be prone to accidental touches (see below). Its sheer obviousness is reminiscent of Google Glass.

Now, here’s a few quotes from Sam that illustrate this theme.

On earbud design:

[…] Instead of a stem extending from the primary earbud unit, Google attaches a larger plastic bubble. Thankfully, this increased size doesn’t add significant weight or bulk when wearing the things, but it also doesn’t seem to add particularly improved battery life or other hardware tweaks. (I also actually think the round design looks surprisingly cool in my ear canal. […]

And:

However, the Pixel Buds lack one of AirPods’ best features: sensing when they’re in your ears. Without this ability, the Pixel Buds’ touch-sensitive right earbud can easily get activated when you’re pulling it out or trying to firmly stick it in the charging case. […]

Sam likes the looks of the round disc, but it’s a hard pass for me. Here’s also what I meant about accidental touches.

On the case design:

But Google’s carrying case is definitively worse than Apple’s version. When you want to charge your Pixel Buds, you have to situate them perfectly into the case’s holes, and this requires fitting them in as if the holes were your ear canals, as opposed to the way the AirPods’ stems just fall into place. This isn’t necessarily difficult, but there is more of a required push-to-confirm feeling, and getting that wrong means you can miss the Buds’ crucial battery-charging connection via little golden connectors.

Sounds like a far cry from the AirPods case.

On audio quality:

With a lot of modern pop music, like the latest Kesha and Taylor Swift albums, these equalization effects add a noticeable “sparkle” to high-gloss production elements […] The issue comes from Google’s desire to emphasize the Buds’ speaker placement, which is split into three little openings—two for normal/higher frequencies, and one for bass resonance.[…]

[…] When the effect appeared to sound the way Google wanted, it was enough to make me say, “oh, these headphones are unique.” But I never felt like they made songs sound better and clearer, and they never drew out particular instruments in compelling ways.They did, at least, appear to find the right bass balance […]

[…] older songs sound decidedly flatter and muddier, and bass tones get lost in the mix. I even found this distinction played out in different decades of hip-hop production. […]

This sounds really bad. I hate when earbuds apply their own audio dressing to my music. I wouldn’t have AirPods if they pulled this crap.

On lack of function:

[…] I held a finger on my right Pixel Bud panel, said “set timer for 30 seconds,” and started pouring hot water. Thirty seconds later, the timer began beeping… but I couldn’t turn it off. Tapping my Pixel Bud did nothing.

Double-tapping will dismiss a timer (among other things) on AirPods.

On the language translation feature:

During a reveal event, Google demonstrated the Pixel Buds’ additional perk: hold a button down on your Buds and talk, and the translation will project from a Pixel 2 phone. Then the other person can speak in the other language, and the resulting translation will be piped directly into the Pixel Buds. Nifty!

Trouble is, that’s not exactly how it works. For one, in this use case, the non-Bud speaker has to be close enough to the phone to hold down an on-screen button and only when he/she speaks, at that. Additionally, when my Pixel 2 was in sleep mode or doing something else, and I held my finger on the right earpiece and said, “help me translate Spanish,” I’d run into Bud-phone sync issues. Either the Google Translate app wouldn’t boot as promised, or the app would boot but with the Pixel Buds not working. This happened a few times in public, often while describing this seemingly wondrous feature to a person at a coffee shop counter, to my utter embarrassment.

This is a really cool feature, but I’m sad to hear it doesn’t work as well as it could.

Here’s the truth: Google is still learning how to design their own hardware. Stemming from issues with Home Mini and Pixel 2 XL, this is just the latest development. Should we give them a pass? No. Do I think they are serious about making their own hardware? Yes. However, time will tell if they have the resolve to deliver without these issues. I hope they do.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Apple updates firmware for AirPods

Apple silently updated the AirPods firmware1 this morning to version 3.7.2. This is only the second time Apple has updated the AirPods since their release last December. This new version most likely brings small bug fixes, as there were no official update notes provided by Apple.

AirPods will automatically receive the update when connected to your phone, but you can force an update the following way:

  1. Connect your iPhone to Wi-Fi.
  2. Go to Settings > About.
  3. Plug the AirPods case in to charge and open the lid near your phone.
  4. If you don’t see “AirPods” appear near the bottom of your Settings > About menu, make sure your AirPods are connecting to your iPhone by selecting them in Control Center’s audio output.
  5. If you do see the “AirPods” menu, wait 30 seconds, then close the case lid.
  6. Wait another 30 seconds, then open the case lid and double check the version number in Settings > About > AirPods. You should see the new version reflected as it is in the screenshot below. If you don’t see it, may have to try these steps again.

AirPods Firmware Update

New version showing in Settings > About > AirPods.

For more info on the AirPods themselves, seem my in-depth review.


  1. Software that runs the AirPods. Firmware itself is embedded in a device and unchangeable by an outside source. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Apple AirPods Review

The AirPods have been a sleeper hit for Apple, reminiscent of their magical and whimsical nature. They also have been out since December 2016, and are still largely in short supply. I’ve had them since day one, and everyone who sees me wearing them always asks me how I like them, so I figured a proper, in-depth review was in order. Read on if you want to know everything about the AirPods and how much I like them.

Read on