AirPods

A Geek’s Best Friend: AirPods (Part 2)

Now that I have covered what I loved about the AirPods, I need to talk about some of their weaknesses. Let’s get started.

The Bad

The Bad

The AirPods have no tactile playback controls, which is why the Automatic Ear Detection feature I previously mentioned in Part 1 is so important. For other actions outside of pause and play, like skipping a music track or adjusting the volume, Apple wants you to rely on Siri.

Let me reiterate. To do something as basic as adjusting the playback volume, Apple's AirPods require you to have an internet connection.

Even worse, to activate Siri, you need to double-tap one of the AirPods. I found this feature to work about 50% of the time. I tried tapping hard and light, and tried tapping over every piece of the AirPod, but I still found it to be terribly unreliable.

Furthermore, like John Siracusa, I found this to be an uncomfortable experience. You are literally pushing this thing into your ear, and it is an unpleasant sensation.

If you do not care about adjusting the volume and simply want to skip tracks, you can reprogram the Siri double-tap function to skip tracks, but as I said, it is an unreliable feature, and can often be uncomfortable. So, I quickly disabled this double-tap functionality.

Essentially, to adjust volume and skip tracks, I just take my iPhone out of my pocket and do so. This is not a big deal, and most certainly does not require an internet connection.

I understand that I am dealing with a first generation product, and perhaps a more graceful solution was not yet possible. I am OK with that. Regardless, this implementation is bad and needs to be improved in subsequent iterations of AirPods.

As of this writing, Apple is still showing AirPods as shipping out in 6 weeks, i.e., 4 months after they were supposed to be available, Apple is still having an issue producing enough AirPods to meet demand. This is not necessarily a criticism of the AirPods themselves, but I feel that it deserves to be mentioned as a disappointment.

The Ugly

The Ugly
I love that he still managed to grab the bottle of wine. Classic!

In part 1, I stated that the initial connection process was seamless and that, once a connection was established, it was robust. However, I did encounter issues re-establishing connections when other devices besides my iPhone were involved, e.g., my Mac.

If the AirPods were connected to my iPhone, and I wanted to start using them with my Mac (which was not signed into iCloud), I should have been able to connect the previously paired AirPods via the Bluetooth Menubar item. However, after a few successful connection attempts, I started to get connection failures.

If I unpaired and repaired the AirPods with my Mac, this would address the issue, but it would always come back after a few successful re-connections. I did some research, and I found this great post by Josh Centers from TidBITS.

Initially, this seemed to work, and I recommend that you try their procedure if you're experiencing a similar issue. However, the problem I experienced did return, but I managed to track it down to the specific way I have my Mac set up. As previously outlined, I have multiple macOS installations on my Mac.

Through testing, I found that if I only keep the AirPods paired to one of these macOS installations, the connection problems ceased. If I paired the AirPods to the second macOS installation, as well, the connection problem returned (this issue occurred whether the macOS installations were signed into iCloud, or not). I have been able to replicate this behavior several times, so it seems like it might be another obscure bug.

One thing I did not test was AirPod connection issues after pairing with multiple, distinct Macs and/or multiple iOS devices (I only have one Mac and one iOS device). I imagine that for many families, this is a common scenario, so I would expect Apple to have tested this case more thoroughly.

Another minor issue that was kind of annoying, was that the AirPods seemed to have a hard time remembering the custom name I gave them. Sometimes, the name stuck for a few days, but was then forgotten. Other times, it didn't stick at all. Eventually, I gave up and resigned myself to the default name. This is probably a software issue, so I do not hold it against the AirPods.

As previously stated, I rely on the Automatic Ear Detection feature of the AirPods for pause/resume functionality. When this feature works, it's amazing, but that's the thing, it does not always work as advertised.

About 20% of the time, the one AirPod left in my ear would start sporadically resuming playback of my content, before I placed the second AirPod back into my other ear. This was particularly annoying when I had to take one AirPod out to chat with someone while on a walk, and music started unexpectedly playing in my other ear.

Proximity Sensors

After some research and more closely examining the AirPods, I realized that I was covering the AirPods' proximity sensors while I was holding the displaced AirPod in my hand. You can easily replicate this issue by removing one AirPod out of your ear while playing content, and placing a finger over each of the two proximity sensors on the displaced AirPod.

Again, this is not a huge issue, but if you are not familiar with exactly how the AirPods are working, this can be confusing and make you think that you have a defective unit.

Conclusion

Despite the issues I outlined in this post, I am incredibly impressed with Apple's AirPods. I am a very active individual. I am constantly walking and working out, so the minute I slipped these bad boys into my ears, I knew I could never go back to anything else.

Having 2, small, wireless earpieces for audio playback (with good battery life, sound quality, and connection reliability) is a game changer. It's as simple as that. If you find that they fit your ears well and you have the funds available, I think the 1st generation AirPods are worth the investment.

Paul Ciano

Enjoyed this post?

Let me know you appreciate it by signing up for my newsletter.