The simple reason Apple AirPods will be ubiquitous someday

Image: Vicky Leta/Mashable

After I tried out AirPods at Apple’s big launch event last September, I said I couldn’t see a future where they become as ubiquitous as their white-cabled earphone predecessors.

That future is easier to see today. Technically I was correct — AirPods aren’t everywhere — but I have to admit I see them around much more than I thought I would, just seven months after Apple first announced the product. Their fast-growing presence in the world is even more remarkable considering they didn’t even get to store shelves until just before Christmas.

I live and work in the New York City area, and it’s the rare day when I don’t see at least one pair of Apple’s white, wireless earphones dangling from someone’s ears on the subway, in a deli lineup, or just on the street. My Mashable colleagues say the same thing: Most agree they tend to see men wearing them much more often than women, but that could simply be because longer hair tends to obscure AirPods’ existence (since there are no telltale cables).

Wireless headphones shouldn’t be popular, for myriad reasons.

Wireless headphones shouldn’t be popular, for myriad reasons. They’re yet another thing to charge and recharge daily. Small gadgets tend to be easily lost, and individual AirPods are relatively expensive to replace. Wireless connections are, by their nature, much less intuitive than simply plugging a cord into a jack (which isn’t affected in the slightest by airplane mode). Sound quality is almost always worse. And, in the case of the iPhone 7, wireless earphones necessitate owning a “dongle” for any non-wireless listening.

And yet here we are, hurtling toward an AirPod future, with Kristen Stewart leading the charge (pun kinda intended). Even if you don’t buy the anecdotal evidence, Apple-owned Beats already sells impressive amounts of wireless headphones, and there are early signs AirPods themselves are a hit. I personally find the AirPod design too easily falls out of my ears, but even I’ve taken to using Bragi’s The Headphone, a similar “true wireless” design that provides a snugger, sealed fit.

The rapid rise of AirPods are a testament to Apple and the product it’s built, but there’s more at play here than a feat of engineering and design. Headphones are now irreversibly intertwined with the smartphone. It used to be — even just a few years ago — your headphones were something you used with several different devices, but that’s less true today. Tablets have fizzled. High-res audio players were a flash in the pan. And while laptops will be with us for a good long while yet, I’d wager most people don’t consider it a priority to have headphones that work with all their stuff. Music, podcasts, videos, games — that’s all on your smartphone now.

That’s why, as far as phones are concerned, the headphone jack is pretty much doomed. It’s not because wireless headphones are now incredible (although they are better than they used to be) or smartphone manufacturers are too arrogant (although they probably are). It’s that, for all the new tech that has taken a shot at being the next big thing — wearables, VR, digital assistants — the smartphone keeps reasserting itself as the center of our digital lives. And your headphones go with your smartphone.

To go wireless, all we needed was a nudge. Call it courage or hubris, but Apple was more than willing to heave us over the edge. All the concerns about killing the headphone jack are still valid, but the more we filter everything through the glass slabs in our pockets, the harder it is to hear them.

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