Apple

Why Apple delayed its futuristic wireless earbuds

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Written by Fethullah Bilgec

Apple’s $159 AirPods created a huge amount of interest when they were revealed alongside the iPhone 7 earlier this year.

When Apple announced the headphone jack-less iPhone 7 in September, it also launched the AirPods, a completely wireless set of earbuds similar to smaller-scale offerings like the Bragi Dash and Samsung Gear IconX.

The little white earphones were expected to go on sale sometime in October for $159. We’re now approaching Christmas, however, and they’re still nowhere to be seen.

Apple formally delayed the earbuds in October, saying it needed “a little more time before AirPods are ready for customers,” but it has been vague in explaining what exactly the hang-up is.

AirPods receive a Bluetooth signal simultaneously

According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, though, the issue sounds largely technical. Citing a “person familiar with the development of the AirPod,” the report suggests Apple is struggling to ensure that both AirPods receive a Bluetooth signal simultaneously, something that would help them avoid sudden connection dropouts.

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It still isn’t clear when exactly Apple will release the AirPods to the public. A Barclays analyst said in November that Apple would start AirPods production on a limited basis sometime in December, but Apple hasn’t provided any update since. The company currently lists AirPods as “coming soon” on its website.

apple airpodsHollis Johnson/Business Insider

If Apple is having trouble keeping AirPods’ connection consistent, it wouldn’t be a surprise — most other truly wireless earbuds on the market today suffer from connection problems.

With the current Bluetooth protocol, wireless audio cannot be streamed to two separate devices simultaneously. As a result, wireless earphone makers have used various solutions to keep two untethered earbuds in sync. The likes of Bragi and Doppler Labs use a tech called near field magnetic induction (NFMI), some have tried deploying the Bluetooth low energy protocol, while others have used different technologies.

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Usually, these involve sending an audio signal to one earbud, which then quickly relays the signal to the other earbud. This can work, but as the choppy performance of most of truly wireless headphones has shown, it’s difficult to make reliable. That’s because it still leaves room for foreign objects — such as your head — to interfere with the signal.

As Business Insider reported in October, Bluetooth SIG, the organization that oversees the development of Bluetooth, is working on an update that would allow devices to send audio streams to multiple devices at once using the Bluetooth low energy protocol, but it isn’t scheduled to arrive until sometime next year.

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When it comes, the hope is that it’ll reduce many of the technical problems that truly wireless earbuds face today. Apple currently has a spot on the Bluetooth SIG’s board of directors.

But according to The Journal’s report, Apple says each AirPod earpiece can receive an independent signal, despite its apparent use of standard Bluetooth audio tech. (Since it can work with any phone.) If true, this could be a result of the proprietary, low-energy W1 chip that’s built inside the AirPods and other Beats headphones.

If Apple is still having trouble getting those signals to each earbud at the same time, this suggests that its attempt to get ahead of the open Bluetooth standard hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped.

Source: Business Insider

About the author

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Fethullah Bilgec

Tech Reporter specialized on Mobile Technologies

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