Well, Apple’s AirPods may signal that Apple is interested in making your future headphones an integrated device, just like your iPhone or Apple Watch. In other words, Will we look back at Apple’s AirPods and proclaim that they were the first networked headphones?
Apple demonstrated that the AirPods connect automatically with all your Apple devices. That means they are simultaneously connected to your iPhone and Apple Watch, and sound switches instantly between the devices.
As we talked previously, the headphone jack is gone and Apple isn’t relying solely on Bluetooth for future wireless audio features. Apple’s W1 chip, the heart of the new AirPods, to me proves that the AirPods are the first headphones that are also micro-computers.
Scoff if you want.
It took the world quite a bit of time to realize that the euphemism that we call a “cell phone” or a “smart phone” is really a portable computer with cellular capabilities ( Our smart phone could just as easily be called a smart camera for that matter).
So let me be among the first to say, just as the basic cell phone died long ago, so too will the basic headphone. Apple has completely re-envisioned the functional role of a headphone with the AirPods. You can’t have a networked headphone with a 3.5mm jack. But you can have one with a wireless set. And the roadmap Apple’s given us a peek into is pretty awesome.
To me, it won’t be long before future generations of headphones go well beyond reproducing music and functioning as headsets.
I can easily see future headphones taking on advanced roles that synthesize so many different things from biometrics to advanced functionality. Imagine for a moment untethering your phone and just being able to voice-dictate Google searches or entire documents only with a pair of headphones and a network connection (that means some type of Wi-Fi or Cellular with today’s tech). Imagine your headphones automatically engaging noise cancellation technology in loud environments; monitoring and recording your exposure to loud noise over time; peer-to-peer linking with other headphones for cellular-like conversations and recordings; acting as advanced hearing aids to those with some hearing loss. Imagine your headphones being able to scan the shape of your ear and performing some kind of hearing test and then receiving DSP updates and other enhancements to tailor the headphone’s audio reproduction specifically for you. I haven’t even scratched the surface. You thought the disruption was big when news agencies started laying off their staff photographers.
Right now, the headphone (like the Apple Watch) has as its choke point or link to the smart phone. That won’t be the case in the future. The headphone of the future will likely stand alone and be a fully networked device. That’s right, imagine Wi-Fi or cellular-enabled headphones that have the increased bandwidth and network addressability to be able to work on a larger scale.
What I’ve long noted and argued is that as Audiophiles and those who demand high quality audio reproduction, any time we have technology that introduces convenience, quality often gets put by the wayside and needs to play catch-up. I only hope that as this new era of headphones commences, marked by the AirPods, that audio quality won’t be another casualty of the latest advancements in tech.