You've probably heard by now, but the new iPhone 7 does not have a headphone jack. This is going to be a pain for all kinds of reasons, but if you pick up a pair of Bluetooth headphones you should do just fine. And hey, what do you know, Apple announced a pair of those! The new "AirPods" are completely wireless!
Don't buy them. You'll regret it.
For the past several years, Bluetooth headphones have been called "wireless," but there is only one specific wire they've eliminated: The one that goes from the headphones to the phone. Over-the-head Bluetooth headphones still have an obvious band connecting the two speakers, and more stripped-down Bluetooth earbud designs usually have a wire running between the two buds, one you can just throw behind your neck.
Apple's AirPods are buying into a new trend that is already emerging. Motorola and Samsung have released Bluetooth buds that are completely wireless. These small earplug-like devices are two unconnected devices—no wire in between. Apple's AirPods are the just the latest—and most high-profile—version.
It seems like a natural step forward, but it's actually a big step back.
If this seems like a natural step forward, don't be fooled; it's actually a big step back. The wire that connects your earbuds together isn't some annoyance that needs to be eliminated. It is actually a great feature with a few nice benefits. This wire prevents you from misplacing one tiny bud by ensuring the two are connected. They are also easy to fish out of your bag or pocket, for instance.
But most importantly, the wire also gives you an easy way to hang the buds around your neck when you're not using them so you don't have to set them down in the first place. With completely wireless buds, you'll not only have to deal with buds that are easy to lose, but you'll have to deal with them every time you take them out of your ears. Want to take off your headphones and talk to someone for a few minutes? I hope you have fun holding a stray AirPod in your ear, fishing it out of your pocket later, or have the carrying case on you literally at all times.
these headphones are committing a grievous sin of design; they gesture at simplicity and ease while making life harder and more complicated.
That's not the worst of it. Eliminating this last wire not only removes a few truly handy features, it also comes with no real upside. Yeah, these headphones are smaller, but to what end? Being easier to lose? So they will be easy for your dog to swallow? Yeah, they're more discrete, but why? So that more people can try to talk to you without realizing that you have something in your ears already? The one minor upside is a carrying case that will charge your buds on the go. Dead Bluetooth headphones are worse than useless—they're maddening. This may be slightly better than carrying a backup charger and a cable. Enough to counter all the looming downsides? No way. And these are just the downsides of this form factor in general, Apple AirPods in particular are even worse—they cost $160 and only work with certain Apple devices.
Apple—and any other company making buds like these—will spin these type of earbuds as the natural evolution of technology. Perhaps even a "magical" experience, as Apple CEO Tim Cook put it on stage today. "What comes after fewer wires? No wires!"
In fact, these headphones are committing a grievous sin of design; they gesture at simplicity and ease while making life harder and more complicated. What might seem like an advancement is actually a bunch of needless flash and glitz. Don't let yourself get blinded.