Apple's new AirPods: Courage or just business as usual?

Technically Incorrect: In touting its allegedly magical advance in wireless sound, Apple creates an expensive look. And one that's very easy to, well, lose.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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Stylish? Or very slightly silly?

Apple screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

A robot and a salesman were in bed one night and got onto the subject of headphones.

The salesman said he loves wearing his Bluetooth earpiece all day.

"I can take the jokes," he said. "That earpiece makes me feel so big, brave and important."

The robot, on the other hand, just didn't think it looked futuristic enough.

"Déclassé," was the word she used.

And so Apple's AirPods were born.

These allegedly magical, sawn-off earpieces just hang there, like Etsy earrings that have lost the jewel at the bottom.

Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, insisted at Apple's event that removing the headphone jack in its new iPhone 7 took "courage."

Some might muse that it will take courage to wear these AirPods.

It will also surely take very little to lose them.

How tempting, then, that some might see this dawn of wireless headphones (that happened a while ago) merely another way for Apple to courageously -- nay, brazenly -- make money.

These AirPods, which work with iPhone 7, 7 Plus and the Apple Watch, cost $159. (They work with older Apple products, too -- iPhones and iPads running iOS 10, and Macs running Sierra. And we're hearing they may even work with non-Apple products, but without all of those fancy extras.)

So you know that miserable self-loathing you experience when you've forgotten or lost your iPhone charger and you have to buy another?

Multiply that by, oh, four.

These little pods will fall out of your big ears and your clumsy little hands. They'll disappear into sofas, plunge down drains and even roll down streets.

Even if you keep them in the tiny little box that Schiller displayed at the keynote Wednesday, that tiny little box will also have a way of misplacing itself.

The AirPods aren't the first such "truly wireless" headphones with separate left/right earbuds. Other companies -- including Bragi, Earin, Kanoa, Erato, Jabra, Doppler Labs, and (of course) Samsung -- have brought such headphones down from the mountain (though to generally mixed reviews). But now that Apple is doing it, everyone's paying attention.

Some might wonder that if they replace the ubiquitous white cables that currently separate humans from other humans, it will feel like a considerable step forward. To a salesman-from-Planet Zog look.

You can be sure, too, that Vogue or some other style bible will already have prepared a photo-spread with models discreetly sporting these things and very little else.

The real test for many, though, will be the quality of sound.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak insisted before the event that he was no fan of wireless sound. Can these AirPods truly offer something to persuade him?

Apple is extremely adept at using tasteful design to make money. It knows that if you make something that looks different, you have more control over how it's priced.

That is, in its own way, courageous.

The belief that your customers' faith in your brand is both irrational and absolute means that you can show them something that appears new and they themselves will understand that it can't possibly be cheap.

In an event in which nothing looked new (a black iPhone? Who'd have thought it possible?), the AirPods stood out as the one defining visual element that will be extremely distinctive in the outside world.

The AirPods will be what you remember. The AirPods will be something you'll have to have an opinion about.

The AirPods will be the symbol of your own knowing step toward modernity.

Just wait till you lose your third one, though.

Updated September 8, 7:54 a.m. PT with specifics regarding device compatibility.