When I saw the press release drop in Apple’s newsroom, my eyes lit up: “AirPods, the world’s most popular wireless headphones, are getting even better.”
I quit using my first-gen AirPods to work out after a charging malfunction that I attribute to water damage.
So at the top of my list for a refreshed AirPods release was sweat-resistance. A few other fitness features, such as heart rate-monitoring, would’ve been a nice touch given that Apple is so committed to health. But then I realized that Apple hasn’t improved the AirPods in any way that can convince me to upgrade from my first-gen earbuds.
H1 chip: Apple made zero changes to the AirPod design, but put a brand new chip inside. The H1 replaces the W1 in the last-gen pods, which Apple says will speed up the time it takes to switch between the devices your earbuds are connected to. The H1 is also expected to cut down on the time it takes to answer a call on your pods — I’ve never really had trouble with this in the past — and Apple says the new chip also enables 50 percent more talk time on a charge.
Hands-free “Hey Siri”: If you regularly use Siri by tapping on your AirPod to call upon the assistant’s help, then being able to ask questions by simply saying, “Hey Siri” (without tapping) is probably useful. I literally never use my AirPods Siri functionality, so this isn’t a must-have feature.
Wireless charging case: The long-rumored wireless charging case for AirPods 2 is real, and it can both wirelessly charge the earbuds and also be wirelessly charged itself. That would be more useful if Apple would release its promised AirPower charging mat, which will be able to juice up the AirPods case, an Apple Watch and an iPhone at the same time. But a version of the new AirPods with the wireless charging case will cost $40 extra — and you can snag a new case for your old AirPods for $79. If you’re upgrading just for the case, then don’t.
What I actually want
Sweat resistance: I don’t want to use two separate pairs of earbuds for different activities, and that’s exactly what I’m doing these days. Many, many people have worked out with the first-gen AirPods with no issues whatsoever. But I managed to kill mine after a year and a half of workouts, and I’m not the only one. What I really want more than anything is a fitness-focused set of AirPods — an AirPods Sport, perhaps? — that would let me exercise with peace of mind that Apple would replace a pod if it were to short out due to sweat.
Improved audio quality and noise cancellation: I would love nothing more than to board a plane and have the option to pop in my AirPods to listen to a podcast or a playlist. Unfortunately, I can barely hear anything in my AirPods over the sound of the airplane and chatter in the cabin, so I have to tote along my Bose QC 35 II headphones for noise cancellation.
This might be a tall order for Apple — other earbuds are able to offer noise cancellation by virtue of design. An earbud with a sealed in-ear tip filters out sound better than an AirPod, which rests outside of the ear and has no foam or silicone tips or wings for a sealed fit. But I’m hopeful some way, somehow, Apple will make it happen.
Health sensors: Apple keeps packing the Apple Watch with health-focused features, some based on hardware sensors, some in software algorithms. But the head is a prime place to measure vitals, particularly the ear. Not everyone wants an Apple Watch, so adding some of those health-tracking capabilities to AirPods would make sense.
However, other companies (including Samsung) have produced heart rate-tracking earbuds that suffer from poor battery life, so it’s unclear if Apple has found a way to mitigate that. It’s clear the company is interested in health sensors, and I’m curious to see a version of sweat-proof AirPods that can do more than just play music.
I know I’m asking for a lot from a tiny device. But I expect a company like Apple to make more meaningful improvements to a product, especially after more than two years on the market. Even just one of those features would have been enough to convince me to buy another pair.
But past reports indicate that Apple has more in store for AirPods, including sweat resistance and biometric sensors. Those features apparently aren’t ready for primetime.
So instead of shelling out $199 for the latest and greatest, I’ll save my money and wait for 2020.
Credit: Tom's Guide
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Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.