Apple's wireless earbuds.
At a Glance
- AirPods are Apple's wireless, entirely cord-free earbuds with W1 chip, designed for iPhones without a headphone jack and other Apple products. New version rumored for late 2018 or early 2019.
- Wire free
- W1 chip for easy device switching via iCloud
- Built-in sensors for ear detection
- Siri functionality
- Included charging case
- 5 hour battery life
- 24 hours of battery life from case
Introduced in late 2016 alongside the iPhone 7, AirPods are Apple-designed earbuds that are designed to compensate for the lack of a headphone jack on modern iPhones.
Priced at $159, AirPods look a lot like the standard Apple EarPods that Apple has offered for many years, but without the cord. AirPods are completely wire-free, with no cord connecting the left and right pieces.
Apple describes the AirPods as "magical," and that's not far off from the truth. With an Apple-designed W1 chip and Bluetooth connectivity, the AirPods connect seamlessly to all of your Apple devices and switch quickly between them for an entirely hassle-free experience when paired with an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, or Mac.
AirPods come equipped with a Charging Case that houses the AirPods when not in use and provides extra battery power. On their own, the AirPods last for up to five hours when listening to music, but the Charging Case provides an additional 24 hours of battery life.
When you open the Charging Case, AirPods connect to your device automatically, and using built-in sensors and an accelerometer, the AirPods can detect when you put them in your ears or take them out, playing and pausing audio accordingly.
Included beamforming microphones allow you to use AirPods for phone calls, and several gestures are available for changing tracks, changing volume, and activating Siri. There's even a voice accelerometer that knows when you're speaking to block out ambient sound.
You can use both AirPods at once or just one if you want to keep an ear free to listen to the environment around you, and Apple designed the AirPods to offer high-quality AAC audio that sounds great with everything from songs to podcasts.
AirPods have been one of Apple's most successful and well-received products in years, and for the first year after AirPods were introduced, they were difficult to get and sold out for months in advance.
As with the iPhone, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and Mac lineup, Apple plans to introduce hardware updates to the AirPods on a regular basis.
The first update to the AirPods could be coming soon. Apple is planning to release an AirPower charging mat capable of charging the AirPods, iPhone X/iPhone 8, and Apple Watch Series 3 at once. Using the AirPower with the AirPods requires a new AirPods Charging Case with wireless charging functionality, which Apple plans to release alongside the AirPower. It's not clear when the AirPower will be released, however, as it has reportedly been plagued with engineering issues.
Apple is also rumored to be planning to unveil second-generation AirPods with an upgraded wireless chip that supports hands-free "Hey Siri" functionality, and further in the future, improved water resistance may be added.
Apple is also rumored to be adding to its Apple-branded audio lineup with the introduction of new over-ear high-quality headphones.
How to Buy
The AirPods can be purchased from the online Apple Store, Apple retail stores, and third-party retailers like Best Buy.
When purchased from the online Apple Store, AirPods ship out and deliver in approximately a week in the United States. AirPods are readily available for walk-in purchase in many retail stores around the world.
In the U.S., AirPods are priced at $159. Prices vary by country.
Design and Internals
Design wise, the AirPods look similar to the corded Apple EarPods that Apple offers alongside the iPhone, but with no wires. Made from a white plastic, the AirPods nestle into the ear but don't offer complete sound isolating features.
Apple designed AirPods to have a universal fit with a shape that accommodates many ear sizes. In addition to the c-shaped bud that fits into the ear, the AirPods have a tail that comes down to provide stability and to offer more space to house internal components.
With no wire between them, AirPods are able to operate independently. You can wear both or just one, and when worn together, they work together like standard earphones thanks to the technology inside.
AirPods feature a motion accelerometer and dual optical sensors that enable tap gestures and a feature called ear detection. AirPods can tell when they're placed in the ear and when they're taken out, so when you put them in, your music plays. And when you pull one out, your music pauses.
Built-in dual beamforming microphones in the AirPods enable both voice calls and Siri commands, and there's a secondary speech-detecting accelerometer that's able to filter out background noise and focus on your voice.
Much of the "magic" of the AirPods is enabled by the built-in W1 chip. The W1 chip allows for a much more efficient Bluetooth connection between an Apple device and the AirPods, allowing for longer battery life.
The W1 chip increases the range of the AirPods, and they're able to stay connected to a device even from several rooms away in most cases.
Apple's W1 chip also provides a key feature tied to iCloud -- easy device switching. Your AirPods are tied to your iCloud account and can be paired to all devices signed into that iCloud account with just a few taps or clicks. Switching is seamless and easy, and simple device switching is one of the features people love most about the AirPods.
Automatic switching, along with the aforementioned feature that allows AirPods to connect to your devices automatically when the case is opened is tied to Apple devices, but with a traditional Bluetooth connection, the AirPods can be paired to any Bluetooth device, including PCs and Android smartphones and tablets.
Supported Gestures and Siri Control
The AirPods support double tap gestures, which can be customized using the Settings app on an iPhone or iPad. AirPods can be set to do the following:
Skip to the next track
Go to the previous track
Turn off audio content
Two taps when using AirPods for calls also either answers the phone or hangs it up.
With Siri, you can use voice commands to control your music, ask simple questions, get weather information, ask for the battery life of your device or your AirPods, get directions, control the volume, and more.
Sample AirPods Siri commands:
Play some new music
Play my "Favorites" playlist
Skip to the next song
Turn down the volume
Pause my music
What's the battery life of my AirPods?
What's the temperature outside?
AirPods Charging Case
The AirPods come with a Charging Case, which is used for both charging and storage when the AirPods aren't in use so they don't get lost.
Similar in size to a container of dental floss, the small Charging Case fits easily into a pocket or a bag. The AirPods slide right into the charging case, and a magnetic connection along with a lid that snaps shut keep the AirPods in place.
While in the case, the AirPods are charged so long as the case has remaining battery power. An LED on the inside of the case glows green when the AirPods are charged and orange when they're in the process of charging.
The case itself is charged using a Lightning port at the bottom of the accessory, and when a Lightning cable is plugged in and the AirPods are in the case, both charge at once.
There's also a button on the side of the AirPods case that's used to pair the AirPods to non-Apple devices and to initiate functions like resets and re-pairing when needed.
The AirPods lasts for up to five hours of solid music listening on a single charge, but if you're using them for phone calls, the battery drains faster.
With a single charge, the AirPods last for up to two hours when chatting, due to the use of the microphone.
With the AirPods Charging Case, which is how the AirPods are charged, you can get an additional 24 hours of listening time and 11 hours of talk time.
Both the AirPods Charging Case and the AirPods can be charged at the same time with a Lightning cable, but when charging the AirPods with the case alone, you can get three hours of listening time (1 hour talk time) with a 15 minute charge, so you never need to worry about the AirPods running out of battery life.
You can even check the battery life on the AirPods by holding the case next to your iPhone and asking Siri "What's the battery level of my AirPods?"
At some point in 2018, Apple is planning to introduce an AirPower charging mat that's designed to charge the AirPods, the iPhone X/iPhone 8 and the Apple Watch all at once using wireless charging techniques. With 2018 quickly coming to a close, however, it looks like AirPower may not make its scheduled debut.
The current version of the AirPods Charging Case is not compatible with the upcoming AirPower, so Apple is introducing an updated AirPods Charging Case with a chip that allows it to charge wirelessly. This Charging Case is also rumored to be compatible with other Qi-based wireless charging options.
Rumors suggested the AirPower would launch before the end of March, but that did not happen, nor did the AirPods appear at Apple's September iPhone event. It's not clear at this point when the AirPower and a new AirPods wireless charging case will debut.
Apple's upcoming Charging Case with wireless charging functionality is identical to the existing charging case with the exception of the wireless charging chip and a charging indicator light on the outside of the case instead of on the inside.
AirPods How Tos and Guides
AirPods work with all iPhones from the iPhone 5 and newer, aka every iPhone introduced since 2012. AirPods are not compatible with older iPhones, such as the iPhone 4s.
As for iPads, AirPods are compatible with the iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 2 and later, 5th-generation iPad, and all iPad Pro models.
The AirPods work with all Apple Watch models, starting with the original Apple Watch.
AirPods are also compatible with the 6th-generation iPod touch, the Apple TV 4K, the fourth-generation Apple TV, and they can connect to other non-Apple devices over a standard Bluetooth connection.
What's Next for the AirPods
As with all of its devices, Apple is said to be planning to introduce upgrades and hardware refreshes to the AirPods on a regular basis, introducing new features.
In early 2019, Apple is said to be planning to introduce second-generation AirPods with an improved wireless chip that will enable "Hey Siri" functionality. With a "Hey Siri" feature, AirPods users will be able to activate Siri without needing to double tap on the AirPods with a finger. These AirPods will also include a wireless charging case that will allow the AirPods to work with the AirPower charging mat that is in the works.
Apple is likely also planning to release a standalone AirPods case that can be purchased as an upgrade for existing AirPods to enable wireless charging.
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in October that the AirPower and a new version of the AirPods will launch late in the fourth quarter of 2018 or early in the first quarter of 2019, and he later clarified that he expects new wireless AirPods in early 2019 rather than late 2018.
Listings for New AirPods were added to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group's regulatory database in November, suggesting a refreshed version of the accessory could be coming soon. No new features are listed, but upcoming AirPods in the database do support the Bluetooth 5.0 specification, compared to Bluetooth 4.0 in the prior-generation AirPods.
There is no Charging Case listing in the database, so we don't know if there's an upgraded wireless charging case coming alongside the next-generation AirPods that are in the works.
Apple is also said working on third-generation AirPods that are set to be released in 2020 with a new design and perhaps improved water resistance that will allow the AirPods to hold up to "splashes of water and rain." The AirPods aren't likely to be entirely water resistant, however, and won't be able to be submerged in liquid. These third-generation AirPods are also rumored to include noise cancellation features and increase the distance that AirPods can be listened to away from an iPhone or iPad.
The above mentioned features may make the AirPods more expensive, with a Bloomberg report suggesting they could be priced higher than the current $159 asking price. In the future, AirPods could be offered at different pricing tiers, with the more feature rich AirPods being more expensive.
Apple's High-End Over-Ear Headphones
Apple may round out its audio wearable lineup with a set of high-end over-ear headphones, which, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, are under development at Apple's Cupertino headquarters.
Kuo says Apple is aiming to have "own-brand high-end over-ear headphones" with an "all-new design" that will be "as convenient as AirPods" but with superior sound quality. Given the information about "own-branded" and a new design, these headphones would presumably be separate from the current Beats-branded headphones that Apple sells.
Bloomberg says Apple's upcoming over-ear wireless headphones will feature active noise-canceling and will be aimed at the high-end market. Apple is said to be eyeing early 2019 as a launch date for the higher-end over-ear headphones.
Apple currently has Beats Studio3 wireless over-ear headphones that feature Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling, and Apple-branded headphones could feature similar technology.