Apple CDO Jony Ive discusses AirPods design as new model poised to ship

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 23
Apple's chief design officer Jony Ive in an interview published Friday offered perspective on why AirPods -- like iPod and iPhone before it -- has over the past months graduated from popular tech product to pop culture phenomenon.




When AirPods launched in 2016, pundits and critics were divided as to what to make of Apple's latest gadget. With a high price tag, middling sound quality and an unorthodox design reminiscent of a pair of EarPods with the wire cut off, AirPods were for some an anomaly.

Over time, however, a sea of customers would vote with their money, as others lauded AirPods as one of the best products to come out of Cupertino in recent years. An easy-to-use device that "just works" thanks to an array of sensors, complementary software and smart industrial design, the earbuds steadily gained a not-so-insignificant following that just recently seemed to reach critical mass.

Whereas seeing AirPods in public was a rarity in 2017, they are now near ubiquitous in many major metropolitan areas.

As noted by Ive in an interview with GQ, the long-simmering success of AirPods boils down to first-hand experience.

"I think this was common on the initial reaction to the AirPods -- it's a reaction based on an academic understanding of them, rather than a practical daily understanding of them," Ive said. "What we tend to focus on are those attributes that are easy to talk about, and just because we talk about them doesn't mean that they're the important attributes. All that means is they're the ones that are easy to talk about."

AirPods harness exceedingly complex technology -- a custom processor and communications chip, optical sensors, accelerometers and beam-forming microphones -- to present owners with a simple and intuitive user experience. Take the earbuds out of their charging case, stick them in your ears and they instantly activate, connecting to a host iPhone or iPad that was initially paired with a single tap.

Beyond a pairing button that sits flush against the back of its charging case, AirPods lack physical controls. Instead, tap gestures, one for each earbud, trigger custom actions like answering a call or controlling audio playback. The rest is automated. AirPods respond to actions and movements made innate through years of muscle memory training -- they pause when an earbud is removed, and playback automatically resumes when it is popped back in. Taking out both earphone simultaneously stops audio altogether.

Ive commented on physical design, a component of the whole that, while often overlooked by lay consumers, plays an important role in the enjoyment and thus success of a product. Specifically, Ive was asked to describe the process that went into AirPods' magnetic case lid and hinge.

"When you are going to have objects that are inherently very mechanical, I think that it's so important that you pay attention to all aspects of the design," he said. "There is color and form and the overall sort of architecture, but then those more difficult-to-define and concept behaviors, like the noise of a click and the force of a magnet that draws something closed."

Delving deeper into the subject, Ive detailed a particular design element that his team struggled to perfect.

"I mean, for example, one of the things that we struggled with was the way that the case orients the AirPod as you put them in. I love those details, that you've had no idea how fabulously we got that wrong, for so long, as we were designing and developing it," Ive said. "When you get them right I think they don't demand a lot from you but they contribute far more than people are necessarily aware for your sense of joy and using a product."

Apple on Wednesday unveiled a second-generation AirPods model that builds on its predecessor with new internals. An Apple-designed, headphone-specific H1 chip boosts performance, gooses connection speed, improves audio synchronization and enables native "Hey Siri" functionality. Power efficiency is also improved, with up to 50 percent more talk time than the outgoing model, while an optional Wireless Charging Case allows for Qi-based inductive charging.

Apple's second-generation AirPods went up for sale this week, with initial supply exhausted within hours. Apple authorized resellers are also accepting orders, including AppleInsider partner Adorama, which is offering an unprecedented $10 discount on pre-orders, with no sales tax collected on shipments outside of New York and New Jersey.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 39
    The most enjoyable and useful accessory I have ever used. Have replaced my Bose headphones with them while using Apple TV. 
    n2itivguyStrangeDaysGeorgeBMaclostkiwismack416dws-2repressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 39
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,460member

    When AirPods launched in 2016, pundits and critics were divided as to what to make of Apple's latest gadget. With a high price tag, middling sound quality and an unorthodox design reminiscent of a pair of EarPods with the wire cut off, AirPods were for some an anomaly.

    Over time, however, a sea of customers would vote with their money, as others lauded AirPods as one of the best products to come out of Cupertino in recent years. 
    I’m beating a dead horse but this once again shows the divide between tech blog comment sections and the real world. Almost every new product announced or released by Apple is immediately declared insufficient, disappointing, garbage, substandard, too expensive, and any other invective you can think of. This was the case when AirPods were released as it is now with Apple’s streaming service. The service hasn’t even been announced yet but it is being savaged in these forums. The new iMacs? DOA. The new iPads? Disappointing. It’s so typical of the mentality here and elsewhere. Consider this the next time the family nerd trashes Apple
    macxpresscharlesgressmiffy31netmageflyingdpbshanklostkiwipscooter63redgeminiparepressthis
  • Reply 3 of 39
     I’m beating a dead horse but this once again shows the divide between tech blog comment sections and the real world. Almost every new product announced or released by Apple is immediately declared insufficient, disappointing, garbage, substandard, too expensive, and any other invective you can think of. This was the case when AirPods were released as it is now with Apple’s streaming service. The service hasn’t even been announced yet but it is being savaged in these forums. The new iMacs? DOA. The new iPads? Disappointing. It’s so typical of the mentality here and elsewhere. Consider this the next time the family nerd trashes Apple
      Exactly!!! 👏🙌
    bshankwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 39
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,798member
    “With a high price tag...”

    Actually no, they weren’t considered high-priced at launch. Other truly wireless options from makers like Bose were in the $200 range, so these were considered mid-priced. 
    GeorgeBMacflyingdpfastasleeppscooter63macplusplusredgeminiparepressthispbruttomike1watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 39
    FolioFolio Posts: 652member
    I made it in first batch as early as 27March delivery. Grown normally sane man awaiting shipping notice as eagerly/impatiently as a 3 year old. Apple one of the few companies who can do this.
    StrangeDaysnetmagebshankfastasleeppscooter63repressthispbruttollamawatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 39
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 684member
    “With a high price tag...”

    Actually no, they weren’t considered high-priced at launch. Other truly wireless options from makers like Bose were in the $200 range, so these were considered mid-priced. 
    Agreed. “When AirPods launched in 2016, pundits and critics were divided as to what to make of Apple's latest gadget… Over time, however, a sea of customers would vote with their money, as others lauded AirPods as one of the best products to come out of Cupertino in recent years.” Weird. I remember AirPods being an instant hit.
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 39
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,728member
    “With a high price tag...”

    Actually no, they weren’t considered high-priced at launch. Other truly wireless options from makers like Bose were in the $200 range, so these were considered mid-priced. 
    I still find them ‘high priced,’ but I don’t put much of a premium on being wireless, so that’s just me. Other truly wireless options were available, but you’re right - AirPods were not out of the ballpark with regards to price. They also offered features and convince that no other headphones offered. The w1 chip gave not only incredibly easy pairing, but ease of device switching and better portability. The charging case was another feature. Easy to fit in your pocket, and the act of safely storing your AirPods charges them. Classic apple deaign.  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 39
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 5,001member
    lkrupp said:

    When AirPods launched in 2016, pundits and critics were divided as to what to make of Apple's latest gadget. With a high price tag, middling sound quality and an unorthodox design reminiscent of a pair of EarPods with the wire cut off, AirPods were for some an anomaly.

    Over time, however, a sea of customers would vote with their money, as others lauded AirPods as one of the best products to come out of Cupertino in recent years. 
    I’m beating a dead horse but this once again shows the divide between tech blog comment sections and the real world. Almost every new product announced or released by Apple is immediately declared insufficient, disappointing, garbage, substandard, too expensive, and any other invective you can think of. This was the case when AirPods were released as it is now with Apple’s streaming service. The service hasn’t even been announced yet but it is being savaged in these forums. The new iMacs? DOA. The new iPads? Disappointing. It’s so typical of the mentality here and elsewhere. Consider this the next time the family nerd trashes Apple
    It's been like this for decades actually. I remember so often reading and listening to things after Apple would release updated iMac G3/G4, or the PowerBook G4 Titanium, along with software it releases. There's always been the naysayers and immediately turn it down as crap, even in the Steve Jobs era. Some people just want to be negative. I think part of that is because negativity brings attention which is what they want. 

    I guarantee you that when Apple announces the new Mac Pro, people are gonna immediately shit all over it for one reason or another just like they did with the iMac Pro, and well hell, even the newest iMac update. 
    edited March 23 StrangeDaysnetmagelkrupprepressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 39
    My only complaint about AirPods is that because of the shape of my ear canals, they fit more comfortably with the left one in my right ear and the right one in my left ear, but there's no way to reverse the channels.  A software switch to do this should not be hard.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 39
    I think they said - hey we did a lot of research designing the newer version of the EarPods (vs the old round ones) - so let's just clip the wires as the shape etc is symbolic as well. OK, now let's figure out how to make that work.... Given the need for frequent recharging, the charging case was critical.
  • Reply 11 of 39
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 5,270member
    If one thinks about it, the technology in the AirPods and in the Apple Watch have blown right past that in any other Apple product.   They make everything else a bit old fashioned from a tech perspective.

    No, I'm not bashing Apple or any of its products.   Simply marveling at what these two can do and how well they do it.   I still have cashiers marveling at the science fiction of my watch when I pay at the checkout with a tap and a ding --- and that has become almost a minor feature of the watch.   And, when I hear the sound coming out of those two tiny little computers in my ears I marvel at it -- as well as the thought that I worked with computers that would fill an auditorium -- now they fit in my ears!
    StrangeDayspscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 39
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,798member
    Eric_WVGG said:
    “With a high price tag...”

    Actually no, they weren’t considered high-priced at launch. Other truly wireless options from makers like Bose were in the $200 range, so these were considered mid-priced. 
    Agreed. “When AirPods launched in 2016, pundits and critics were divided as to what to make of Apple's latest gadget… Over time, however, a sea of customers would vote with their money, as others lauded AirPods as one of the best products to come out of Cupertino in recent years.” Weird. I remember AirPods being an instant hit.
    Indeed they were, which is why they were out of stock so often and Cook said their only problem was they couldn’t make them fast enough. Curious version of history the writer has. 
    flyingdppscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 39
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,798member

    MplsP said:
    “With a high price tag...”

    Actually no, they weren’t considered high-priced at launch. Other truly wireless options from makers like Bose were in the $200 range, so these were considered mid-priced. 
    I still find them ‘high priced,’ but I don’t put much of a premium on being wireless, so that’s just me. Other truly wireless options were available, but you’re right - AirPods were not out of the ballpark with regards to price. They also offered features and convince that no other headphones offered. The w1 chip gave not only incredibly easy pairing, but ease of device switching and better portability. The charging case was another feature. Easy to fit in your pocket, and the act of safely storing your AirPods charges them. Classic apple deaign.  
    If in the market for a pack of gum or some other lower-priced good, yes, they are high, relatively. Conversely, they are outright cheap compared to high-end listening room solutions. But we must always compare the product to the category being discussed and that’s there where these were decidedly mid-range in price. 
    GeorgeBMacmike1watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 39
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,798member
    My only complaint about AirPods is that because of the shape of my ear canals, they fit more comfortably with the left one in my right ear and the right one in my left ear, but there's no way to reverse the channels.  A software switch to do this should not be hard.
    There is a front speaker on the APs, if you put them into the opposite ears then it’s facing backwards and not projecting into the ear....unless your rotate them upside down was well. That is not normal. 
    edited March 23 macplusplusrepressthis
  • Reply 16 of 39
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,798member
    macmarcus said:
    I think they said - hey we did a lot of research designing the newer version of the EarPods (vs the old round ones) - so let's just clip the wires as the shape etc is symbolic as well. OK, now let's figure out how to make that work.... Given the need for frequent recharging, the charging case was critical.
    No, I think they found the design still valid, and don’t do change for change’s sake. 

    Frequent recharging is relative. For ultra portables, 5 hours of music playback is good. When launched two years ago I’m not aware of wireless buds that did better. 
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 39
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,750member
    lkrupp said:

    When AirPods launched in 2016, pundits and critics were divided as to what to make of Apple's latest gadget. With a high price tag, middling sound quality and an unorthodox design reminiscent of a pair of EarPods with the wire cut off, AirPods were for some an anomaly.

    Over time, however, a sea of customers would vote with their money, as others lauded AirPods as one of the best products to come out of Cupertino in recent years. 
    I’m beating a dead horse but this once again shows the divide between tech blog comment sections and the real world. Almost every new product announced or released by Apple is immediately declared insufficient, disappointing, garbage, substandard, too expensive, and any other invective you can think of. This was the case when AirPods were released as it is now with Apple’s streaming service. The service hasn’t even been announced yet but it is being savaged in these forums. The new iMacs? DOA. The new iPads? Disappointing. It’s so typical of the mentality here and elsewhere. Consider this the next time the family nerd trashes Apple
    A perfect (and recent) example being the Huawei fandroids whining about how much better Huawei's products are... and then the (arrested) CFO is found to be carrying all Apple products during her travels.... and yet strangely, not a peep from those same people.
    StrangeDayslostkiwipscooter63repressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 39
    macmarcus said:
    I think they said - hey we did a lot of research designing the newer version of the EarPods (vs the old round ones) - so let's just clip the wires as the shape etc is symbolic as well. OK, now let's figure out how to make that work.... Given the need for frequent recharging, the charging case was critical.
    No, I think they found the design still valid, and don’t do change for change’s sake. 

    Frequent recharging is relative. For ultra portables, 5 hours of music playback is good. When launched two years ago I’m not aware of wireless buds that did better. 
    Touchy touchy. Chill. I specifically wrote what you wrote in a different way. There is no "No". That they spent a lot of time and money on the EarPods shape and sound. That they are symbolic / iconic as well. So they kept that.

    I doubt anyone would disagree that the charging case was needed and a very very important part of the AirPod experience and adoption. Without the charging case, AirPods would not have been nearly as successful.
    edited March 23 watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 39
    roakeroake Posts: 668member
    elfig2012 said:
    They probably aren’t saying anything.  Any number of large studies have failed to find any correlation between cellphone usage and cancer.  AirPods emit far less radio frequency than cellphones.

    The quantity of worthless theories that you find using Google is astounding.  You should try using a peer-reviewed fact-based site such as PubMed.gov if you want some real reports.
    edited March 23 netmageGeorgeBMacrepressthisroundaboutnowracoleman29watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 39
    "Apple authorized resellers are also accepting orders, including AppleInsider partner Adorama, which is offering an unprecedented $10 discount on pre-orders, with no sales tax collected on shipments outside of New York and New Jersey." FYI I'm not seeing a $10 discount when clicking the link (still $159), and Adorama's support line is closed.
    watto_cobra
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