The potential for AirPods
Why Apple’s wireless headphones should — and won’t — own tech’s next wave
Daniel, you not only mention all the right buzzwords (voice interface, VR/AR, wearables, etc.), but you also do a good job correlating them with Apple’s product suite. I had taken it one-step further: detailing Apple’s legitimate strategic path (and roadblocks) into the next epoch, and describing the specific product evolutions that’ll get them there. AirPods should be the centerpiece of that campaign.
Logically, the voice interface is a layover en route to a robust VR/AR era. While everyone talks about Amazon’s Alexa, there is no greater manifestation of the voice interface than AirPods.
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Why is that? First, as M.G. Siegler noted, the voice interface is about “both talking and listening — vocal and audible computing.”
I’ve discussed the implications of that two-way street too. Specifically, it makes different types media more fungible — text, audio, and video all converted into audible form — which is a huge gamechanger for anyone in the content business:
“ The voice interface isn’t just about you giving Alexa verbal commands, but also Siri reading text aloud to you. What’s interesting about that to me is that it makes all types of media more fungible & interoperable.
In addition, ubiquity is an important factor. While Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are modularizing their versions of the voice interface to give themselves a software presence everywhere (home/car/etc.), AirPods are inherently ubiquitous. These two approaches are analogous to the open Android and closed iOS platforms from the mobile era. There’s a real strategic advantage in having a single, integrated solution like the latter — especially when you’re Apple, who’s core competency is integrating software and hardware in a superior user experience.
Finally, as you noted, the understated nature of AirPods — being almost invisible to others and ethereal to the bearer — is another big plus.
In that vein, it’s also logical for wearables to be the bridge from voice interfaces to that AR/VR future. What better emissary than AirPods?
As I mentioned in my opening, Apple has some real challenges to overcome. Chiefly, their dogmatic championing of privacy puts it at a strategic disadvantage in the data department, which data are the lifeblood for an optimal user experience. (Hence, Google has to be the favorite, despite Apple’s having all the right pieces in play.)