AirPods Will Reshape Wireless Audio for the Masses

Staff Writer
Updated

Maybe you agree with Apple executives that removing the headphone jack from the iPhone is an act of "courage." Or maybe you recognize that description as the marketing spin it is. Regardless, by creating the wireless AirPods to make up for the lack of an analog audio connection on the iPhone 7, Apple will reshape the market for wireless audio with these relatively inexpensive earbuds.

With a price tag of just $159, Apple's AirPods cost $100 to $150 less than competing true-wireless earbuds. For a company with a reputation for pricey products, that's a pretty big gap. And let's not forget that this category didn't even exist until Earin launched the first pair of wireless earbuds last year, in the fall of 2015, for a whopping $300.

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So while the quality and design of wireless earbuds have improved over the last 12 months, the price has stayed the same. Look at the current top two wireless buds on the market: Bragi’s Dash and Erato's Apollo 7. The Dash buds have a host of fitness- and health-tracking features, and the Apollo 7s are arguably the best-sounding wireless earbuds available. But they both cost $299, nearly double what Apple wants you to pay.

Then there's a whole horde of upcoming wireless buds. Samsung's $249 Gear IconX, Jabra's $249 Elite Sports and the $299 Yevo 1s aren't even out yet, but could be dangerously overpriced by the time they hit the market.

Apple will be in the unusual position of pushing prices of a category down instead of up.

Not every company in the wireless earbud game was caught completely off-guard by Apple’s aggressive pricing. A day before Apple's iPhone 7 event, Bragi announced The Headphones, which will cost just $149 even after the discounted preorder price of $119 goes away. There are also a handful of other unannounced wireless earbuds coming this fall that should deliver options in the $150 range, but few if any offer the sleek design or seamless integration promised by Apple's AirPods.

Nevertheless, the message is clear: For most, $300 or even $250 is simply too much to pay for true wireless audio. (There will be some exceptions for wireless earbuds and headphones that cater to audiophiles and fitness fanatics.) So if the AirPods turn out to be pretty good — and based on some early reviews, they seem to be — Apple will be in the unusual position of pushing prices of a category down instead of up.

Finally, there's still one question about the AirPods that needs to be to answered: Is the wireless connection between the earbuds and the phone any good? It's an issue that even the best wireless earbuds currently available struggle with. I've yet to test a single pair that can deliver rock-solid audio in NYC. There's so much wireless interference in Manhattan that buds like the Earin are practically unusable. Even the best wireless headphones, such as the Dash and Apollo 7s, are often unstable.

But as the saying goes, if Apple's AirPods can make it in New York, they can make it anywhere. And if they do, when the AirPods come out sometime in October, Apple will have big lead over pretty much every other set of true wireless earbuds for the immediate future.