More on AirPods – A Few Weeks Later

  • The fit isn’t perfect. The buds are just a bit loose for me, and that’s unfortunate. But they don’t fall out while I’m walking around, and they stay enough in place that it doesn’t bother me. An occasional adjustment gets them right back into that ideal sound position. I’ve learned to be less paranoid about them falling out randomly, in any case.
  • I tried the silicon gel covers that some companies make for the regular Apple Earbuds. They fit perfectly on the AirPods, as they are exactly the same size. And the extra layer of silicon does help the buds stay in my ears a bit better. Especially for my right ear, which as I mentioned before, is a bit larger than my left, evidently. Problem is, once the covers are on, the AirPods will no longer fit into the charging case. They slide into the charging ports, but the lid won’t close. This is the one time I’ve actually wished Apple paid less attention to detail in their manufacturing tolerances. If those cutouts were just a bit larger, the lid would close perfectly. Unfortunately, the lid not closing is a deal breaker for me. So I’m back to using them without any extra covers.
  • Given this size issue, and knowing that for some with even bigger ears than me it’ll be an even bigger deal, I wish Apple would consider making at least two sizes of AirPods. Maybe they will. They make multiple sizes of Watch bands, after all. This is the reality of the wearables market. People are all sorts of shapes and sizes, right?
  • I don’t think about battery life at all. The buds themselves last more than a few hours; more than I generally listen in one sitting. Whenever they aren’t in my ears, they are in the case, where they recharge. The case has never come close to being drained in a single day. And I’m a “charge all the things every night” kind of person, so I have yet to drain the case down at all. I suspect if I forgot to charge the case for a while, I’d get at least four or five days of normal use out of them before absolutely needing to recharge. That’s unscientific, but the bottom line is that it’s never going to be an issue for me, because I do charge them every night.
  • Speaking of charge, I do wish the iOS battery widget would show the AirPods charge percentage (the buds and the case) at all times, rather than just when the AirPods were active. That would probably cost some battery life, but it would be good to know the case charge, in particular, without having to stop the music and place the buds into the case. Maybe I should just not care about the charge percentage of the case, since it never seems to be a problem for me. But I’m a data junkie about this stuff.
  • Not having wires is amazing; being able to seamlessly switch pairing between my Macs, iPads, iPhone, etc. is even better. I even use my AirPods at my desk in the office at home, where I have a set of nice wired headphones. Because it’s so easy to switch to them, and they are in my ears already. This means I can also walk around the apartment to get a glass of water, etc. without being tethered to my desk, continuing to listen to audio from my Mac. Pure bliss.
  • I wear the AirPods out and about every day. So far, two people have asked me about them. One had no idea what they were and was just stunned that I had wireless earbuds. (This was only a day after I got them.) The other asked if they were the new “Apple Wireless” earbuds. (That was a few days ago.) The AirPods are going to break out of tech culture and into popular culture fairly quickly, I’m thinking. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them showing up on more “normal” users in a few months.
  • I have dropped the buds a few times (one onto a subway platform, which was frightening, to say the least) but they are so light that there wasn’t even a scratch on the bud. This has only occurred when I was in the process of putting them back into the case, or putting them into my ears. They are a bit slippery, and they do need to be handled with some care. Also, winter hats/gloves/scarves, etc. mean you need to be aware of the buds a bit more. Of course, I no longer have to worry about my scarf getting tangled in the cable, so it’s a tradeoff.
  • The sound quality is still really great. Especially for a wireless earbud. This continues to be the most pleasant surprise for me. There is almost no isolation, though. Loud subway cars coming into stations, traffic, sirens—these all force me to pause my podcasts. This is probably a good thing for walking around the city, as those noises are important to hear. But it can be a bit annoying at times. I think I’ll likely still want to take my H6 headphones on airplanes, at least.
  • I know some have wished for more touch gestures, so you could do more than play/pause or invoke Siri. I’m guessing most of those people have not used the clunky touch controls on other wireless headphones. The thing is, putting your hand up to your ear is not a normal thing. Making precise gestures in that area of the body without looking is harder than it would seem. I’m guessing Apple has tested this and has found it not ideal to be sliding up and down along the bud, etc. The more you handle the bud, especially for those of us for whom the fit is not tight, the more likely you’re going to knock one out of place, too. Maybe a triple tap could be useful to skip ahead. But enough people have complained about the double tap not always being recognized that I wonder if even that would be ideal.
  • What I’ve been doing for controlling volume is using my Apple Watch. I know not everyone has an Apple Watch, but when I get on the subway, I just open up the Now Playing screen from my Dock, and then I have quick access to volume and skipping without taking my phone out of my pocket, at least. My Watch is set to leave the last app running, rather than returning to the watch face, so the controls are only an arm raise away.
  • I never use Siri with my AirPods, so I’ve set the double tap to play/pause. I know I can take a bud out to make that happen, but then I have a bud in my hand. I tend to pause my music and podcasts a lot while I’m writing an email response, thinking about a solution to a code problem, etc. I want to be able to stop the music and still do things with my hands.
  • I have edited an episode of my podcast, Release Notes, using the AirPods. I could not use them to record music, however. The latency is just too great for performance. Even for edits, it wasn’t ideal. But AirPods are not meant for professional recording sessions, so this isn’t a knock against them, per se.
  • People are suggesting Apple should make Jet Black AirPods. I think that’s another great idea (along with different sizes). It depends on how well they sell and how badly Apple wants to be in the headphones business, I guess. I’m sure they don’t want to overshadow the Beats brand, but then again, they didn’t brand these with Beats in the first place, so you never know. My guess is that the AirPods exist mainly as a gesture to other headphone manufacturers that better wireless headphones are possible. And to help sell the concept of an iPhone with no headphone jack. I hope manufacturers take the hint and we get some amazing new models this year, as I’ve said before.

Speaking of iPhones with no headphone jacks: I wasn’t someone who cared about needing the dongle for my wired headphones for a few months. I did forget my dongle once, which sucked, to be sure. And there were definitely times when I wanted to listen to music while also needing to plug the iPhone into my Mac. In other words, I had no problem with the removal of the jack philosophically, but I did experience the downside of that tradeoff a few times. Now that I don’t have to think about wires at all, none of this is a concern at all. I can see Apple dropping the headphone jack on the iPad this year. The Mac will likely come sometime later (because of the aforementioned latency issues for recording). We are moving towards all headphones becoming a wireless accessory. Period. It’s still a transition period, so there will be pain along the way. (Price, latency, needing to charge batteries, etc. are all still obstacles to overcome.) But given my experience so far with AirPods, the future of headphones is looking pretty awesome.

Ring in the New Year in Style

New Year’s Eve is a time for celebration. I often find myself texting friends, siblings, and other loved ones just after the ball drops to wish them all the best in the year to come.

Traditionally, I ring in the New Year with a champagne toast. (Or a toast with whatever other beverage is handy.) If you like to do the same, this year I’ve got you covered for how to combine your toast with your texts to loved ones: The Mixologist Sticker Pack.

Mixologist conveniently contains a glass of champagne (along with dozens of other cocktails) which you can send along to friends and family as a way of adding extra mirth to your well wishes.

You can even wow them more by sending the sticker with the “confetti” effect Apple provides. I’m guessing most of your less tech-savvy friends will think you performed a magic trick on their phones with the confetti, as they likely haven’t seen that yet.

For a quick demo on how to send with confetti (or balloons, or lasers, if you prefer), check out the video below.

The Mixologist Sticker Pack is available on the App Store.

AirPods Early Impressions

  • It took all of ten seconds to take the AirPods out of the package and get some music going in my ears. And that included choosing the song I wanted to test first.1 The pairing process has that “magic” feel that so many claim Apple no longer produces.
  • The AirPods sound pretty good. Better than any wireless headphone I’ve ever tried, in any case. They can’t compete with my B&O H6s, but how could they? Meanwhile, not having a cord is going to make a huge difference in my travels around the city every day. So I think the tradeoff is going to be worth it for me. I have my good wired headphones for home use whenever I really want to listen to the absolute best quality audio.
  • I can’t use Apple’s included white earbuds at all. There’s simply no way to put them into my ears and get a proper seal without physically holding them constantly with my hands. I was skeptical about AirPods for this reason, as they are pretty much exactly the same shape as the earbuds. But it turns out, not having the cables pulling the buds down makes a big difference. I have no trouble getting the AirPods into a position where they produce the proper balance of bass and treble, and so far, they mostly stay put while sitting and working.2 I still need to test them further while walking, but so far the fit is way better than I expected. I may look into the many silicon sleeves that are out there to tighten up the fit even further. Though that could make them hard to put back into their case.
  • I haven’t tried taking a phone call on AirPods yet. At the rate I usually talk on the phone, it may be months before that changes.
  • I absolutely love the idea of having wireless headphones that can switch between my phone, Mac, and iPads with zero hassle. Compared to un-pairing and re-pairing constantly with my last set of wireless headphones, this is like waking up in the future. So far, I’ve had no issues getting them working on my iPads and my iPhone. Neither of my Macs as of this writing seem to be syncing the pair over iCloud. They are both running the latest version of Sierra, so I don’t know what’s going on there. The AirPods simply don’t show up in the Bluetooth menu. I know this is supposed to “just work” so I’m hopeful this is a temporary iCloud glitch. Switching over to my Mac for audio is something I do fairly often.
  • I think I’m going to keep these. And that surprises me quite a bit. I fully expected AirPods to not work for me at all, given my history with Apple’s earbuds and fit. But they sound good enough for day-to-day music and podcast listening, and the lack of wires is going to be epic for me as I move around the city.
  • I get why so many reviewers have described AirPods as the best thing Apple has released in a long time. You can tell a lot of attention to detail went into all aspects of the design, and the integration of the hardware with software is where Apple shines most.
  • Having said that, I do hope Apple eventually licenses the W1 chip inside AirPods to other headphone manufacturers.3 I would absolutely love to see what B&O, or Bose, or Sennheiser could do with wireless over ear headphones that paired this seamlessly.
  • As I said when the iPhone 7 and AirPods were announced, we’re going to have much better wireless headphones a year from now because Apple has done away with the headphone jack. AirPods should kick the other manufacturers into high gear. If they can’t match Apple’s pairing magic, they can at least up the ante on sound quality and offer more options beyond earbuds.

Update: I rebooted my MacBook, and the AirPods now show up in the Bluetooth menu. Not sure if the reboot was necessary, or if they would have shown up eventually. But that’s resolved, anyway. I’ll have to check on my iMac when I get back home.

  1. Rush’s “Big Money”, of course. Power Windows is a particularly well produced album, so it makes for a great test of any headphone. Another song I tried soon after: “Crazy” from Seal. One of the best mixes in the history of recorded music. ↩︎
  2. My right ear must be a bit bigger than my left, as that one seems to slip ever so slightly over time. Still, I expected them to fall out instantly, and they don’t. ↩︎
  3. Yes, I know there are Beats headphones with the W1, but I don’t like Beats, and that’s an Apple brand, anyway. ↩︎

Miracles do Happen

“As far as I’m concerned, Apple cannot claim that it loves music ever again until it gives us the option to sort albums by date. No self-respecting music geek sorts albums by name. I don’t care if you hide the option in the Settings app, just give me the option for date, you wankers.”

Yes, that was me a few months back, railing on Apple for what was truly a terrible omission in the iOS Music app.

I honestly expected that Apple was never going to fix this, but low and behold, with the recent release of iOS 10.2, there’s the Sort button, sitting right in the artist listing top navigation bar, and it indeed lets us sort by Release Date, in ascending or descending order, to boot.

So let this be a beacon of hope for all your fantasy feature enhancements. I have no delusions that Apple reads my blog and “heard my plea” on this issue. I figure a like-minded brave developer or two on the iOS Music team pushed the powers that be until the feature was deemed worthy of the time.

To that developer or developers, I say thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It really does make a huge difference to the experience of playing music on my phone.

As far as Apple’s claims to loving music—let’s just say I’ll be at least slightly less likely to roll my eyes next time I hear that old line uttered on a stage by an Apple exec. They still have a long way to go, but the progress, however slow, is always welcome.

The “Twist”

As long as I can remember, people have complained to me about the frailty of Apple’s various cables. Lightning cables, the cables on the power bricks. The old 30-pin cables. You name it, people say they are always having to replace them because they fray, short out, etc.

No doubt, the cables Apple makes are far from perfect in this regard. They’ve gotten thicker in recent months, probably as a long-overdue response to this complaint, but time will tell if the new thickness is any help to these unfortunate people who have had to pay to replace fraying cables.

I have to confess, though, I always have to struggle to empathize with people over their cord issues, because in the many years I’ve been using Apple products, I’ve never had a single cord fail on me. Is this extreme luck? I doubt it.

Having borrowed cords from friends over the years for a quick charge, or to plug my phone into my laptop, I’ve noticed a pattern. Many of my friend’s cords look as though they’ve been through a war, whereas just about any of mine look like they were unpacked out of their original boxes yesterday.

cables

Guess which cable is mine?

I won’t speculate why my friends’ cables are so often yellowed, sticky, etc. But I can say with certainty that the way most developers wrap their cables has a great deal to do with the condition they end up in after a few months. I’ve seen all sorts of variations of wrapping the cord around itself, around devices, twisting them into knots, etc. Usually, the ends are completely stressed when they are done wrapping. And then they throw them into a bag that way for several days at a time.

I’m not saying that Apple’s cables shouldn’t be able to withstand a bit more torture than they get from most people, but there is something to be said for being a bit more careful.

And that’s where the “twist” comes in.

I first encountered the twist when I was a young musician. The one aspect of playing an electric instrument that I’ve always hated is dealing with the instrument cable. After a live performance, especially, the cable would be so twisted up in knots, and I’d have only a few minutes to pack up all my equipment and get off the stage for the next act. So I’d wrap the long cable into a circle using my arm, or just shove the cable into a bag any which way, which led to me needing to replace my cord about every six months or so.

Then one day, a sound engineer I was working with taught me the trick. Make sure both ends of the cable are free to move. Then, hold the end of the cable in one hand, and use your second hand to bring a loop of the cable over to the first hand, making a twisting motion as you do so. Allow the free end of the cable to spin freely. Repeat until the entire cable is in nice, even, flat loops.

This literally changed my life. I use this technique with every cord I own, and it works flawlessly. I almost never need to replace instrument cables anymore. I can pack several cables in seconds, and everything stays neat and orderly for the next show.

It works particularly well with Lightning cables and other Apple cables, too, as demonstrated in the following video.

For longer cables, such as the ones I use for playing music, I use a velcro tie to keep the loops together. On shorter cables, I just gently wrap the ends around the loop, creating a simple hook.

The best part is not only does this prolong the life of your cables, it makes stowing away the cables into bags and pouches much easier. And it makes keeping the cables separated from each other much easier, too. No more knots.

Learn this trick, and I swear, unless you are pulling the plug out by the cable (which I really hope you aren’t) or you are stressing the cable in some other way during actual use, you should never have another problem with any of Apple’s white cables again.

Unless your cats get to them. I can’t do anything about your cats.