This post is about my recent experiences using wireless charging and AirPods, and thoughts about future interaction models.
My iPhone 7 battery life has been on the decline for the last few months. Although the physical hardware is aging, there’s a few other factors at play too. I noticed that I was using my phone more for emails and browsing, as well as for listening to podcasts over bluetooth. It is also the winter season at Waterloo, which has a small impact when I use my phone outside. On occasion I’ve charged my phone with a 12W iPad charger, but now I try to avoid it since it is bad for most phone batteries since they have less capacity. Remembering to plug in my phone in the afternoon is not something I want to constantly think about.
Instead, I got a wireless charger and a wireless adapter for my phone. If you previously asked me to estimate the increase of convenience and comfort of wireless chargers I would probably have predicted it would be negligible. (How hard is plugging and unplugging a cable???)
Yet once I started using the wireless charger there was no going back1. There’s no need to aim the connector to align with the port, even though it’s second-nature already; the unconscious effort of making sure the cable doesn’t knock over objects is eliminated; walking out the door with my phone is instantaneous.
Now, whenever I sit down at my desk, I just drop my phone on the charger so it is always charging. All this might seem like a tiny increase in convenience, but I wouldn’t be surprised if by doing this that most people wouldn’t need to worry about battery life anymore.
AirPods are great. The most obvious benefit is, of course, the lack of wires. I’ve always wrapped my earphones “over-under” method which reduces the tension on the wires. Nonetheless I found that as wires age, they get tangled more easily, which is why I usually carry with me my (relatively) new lightning EarPods.
I’ll admit I have a pretty unusual use case: Although the majority of the time I would listen on my phone, the problem was I would switch to my computer to do meetings every week. This meant I had to dig out my old 3.5mm with adapter earbuds, which I always keep with me in my bag.
Now I could’ve solved this by getting any pair of bluetooth earbuds but buying the AirPods was so much easier: I didn’t have to do any comparison of detailed tech specs. Furthermore when it comes to tech gadgets, I think that having a deep integration within an ecosystem is the biggest selling feature, which in this case meant it was easier to switch between devices. And of course, the charging case is elegantly designed and makes a wonderful snap sound as it closes. It’s the little details that matter.
I’ve heard many people worry about how easy it seams to lose them, but in most cases there isn’t much to fear - for one, audio playback automatically pauses (except phone calls) if one AirPod falls out. The only rule is to make sure each AirPod is either in your ear or in the case.
I do have to mention a few nitpick details because as good as any product is, there can always be improvements. Hopefully these issues can be addressed in a future update.
- When I first used AirPods I didn’t have as good of an understanding on how switching between devices work. I thought that because it was already linked to my iCloud account that if I play music from my phone, then play from my computer, then the AirPods would automatically do so too. Eventually I realized that I had to explicitly switch the audio source 2.
- I would like to have the ability to switch audio source when the charging case gets opened right beside that device, saving the user from 3D-touching into the audio settings.
- When an audio source does get switched, sometimes it takes just a tad longer than what seems like it should take.
- Sometimes there is a buzzing sound when there is no sound being played, which is especially noticeable when scrolling through video because it seems to prime the audio driver (even though no sound is being played yet).
It all comes together
Improvements in hardware is often the driving force behind device upgrades because customers want the newest features. However, the existing hardware we have today is already very capable. Suppose a consumer wants to see a 15% improvement before they upgrade their phone. However a 15% improvement from an iPhone X might be equivalent to several model jumps back in say the iPhone 4 days. It is a much higher bar today.
Yet another approach of developing new features is to support a different paradigm of interactions. Two obvious examples we see today are voice assistants and virtual reality. No doubt hardware plays a critical role, but the importance of software and integration in an ecosystem also cannot be understated for these paradigms. Both use personal and public data, coupled with the current context, to provide and act upon requests by the user. The hardest part is achieving a near-perfect accuracy and responding fast enough to overcome the habit of how users currently accomplish their tasks today.
The overall theme over the past two years is the trend towards all things wireless, and that’s something I would like to see and hear taken to a whole new level in the upcoming years. Let’s go build a wireless connected world!
2 ↩ Thinking back, of course this is necessary because it’s not possible for computers to fully read our thoughts (yet)