The world is slowly becoming wireless and nothing signifies this more than AirPods. Released in 2016 alongside the iPhone 7, they were immediately ridiculed and then shortly copied by all other phone and headphone brands. Apple’s “courageous” decision, as they labeled it, has made them more than $8 billion just in 2019. From cultural status symbol to senseless cash grab, I’ll discuss AirPods, what they became, and how they are being copied by nearly everyone.
Apple is famous for several things. The iPhone isn’t just their most popular product, it’s the most popular single phone ever. The AirPods craze is built entirely from this iPhone love and Apple’s decision to make more money. During the iPhone 7 launch event, it was announced that this would be the first smartphone ever without a headphone jack.
That was back in 2016 and Apple hasn’t looked back. During that event, this was presented as a courageous decision, a necessity to push our world forward. Apple said we cannot have a wireless future if we continue relying on outdated technology. Hence, the AirPods were born.
While they dominate the world now and are seen as a big status symbol, this was quickly ridiculed by almost everyone.
Now, not to steal the thunder away from their “selfless” decision to push us into the future, but Apple was effectively selling a solution to a problem they just created. “Here are some expensive headphones, you’ll need them for our expensive phone.”
The best products solve a problem. Normally that’s a problem you encounter in your everyday life, not one the company just made for you, but that’s exactly what happened with AirPods. If you wanted your expensive phone to work the best, then you needed to buy equally expensive wireless earbuds.
Of course, people made fun of AirPods. Trevor Wallace, Conan, Jimmy Kimmel, and so many more have mocked them, and it’s easy to see why. For a year or two afterward you would see brands like Google and Samsung proudly feature their “outdated” headphone jack.
However, while people were laughing at AirPods, Apple was laughing all the way to the bank. People may have hated buying expensive headphones, but they were doing it hand over fist. If there’s anything Apple is good at, it’s being laughed at while making lots of money.
It happened when they first released the iPhone, it happened when they kept releasing iPhone (especially in old sizes), it happened with AirPods, and it will continue to happen. Whether it’s forward-thinking or just knowing how to get people’s money, they are profiting from decisions we see as ridiculous.
The Ripple Effect
Remember that bolstering and chest-beating I brought up before with the other big brands proudly saying they had and would stick with conventional headphone jacks? That stopped about a year later.
The 2017 Google Pixel featured the conventional headphone jack. The 2018 Google Pixel removed it, forging ahead into this brave new future, with PixelBuds. OnePlus followed suit with the wireless Bullets and no more headphone jack, Huawei has FreeBuds, and Razor uses Hammerhead.
Even the most stalwart brand, Samsung, finally relented with the Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Buds. Chances are that any new phone you buy is going to not have a headphone jack as nearly every brand has transitioned over. Brands usually make a big deal of this feature now, so unless it’s explicitly stated that there’s a headphone jack, you shouldn’t expect one.
What do we mean by AirPod clones? These can be broken into two different categories. First are the brands that don’t make smartphones, but they do make smartphone accessories. You can find these from Amazon, Bose, Jaybird, Beats, and more. The scramble to get into this market is huge and almost everyone who makes headphones is struggling to gain attention.
As with any other popular product, there are going to be the knockoffs that mimic the popular product but with lots of cut corners. You can find cheap copies of Apple AirPods that look very similar, but these knockoffs are made from inferior materials, have connection issues, and lack of all the iOS features that make AirPods special.
The knockoffs are annoying, but it’s a sign that AirPods and wireless headphones are dominating the market.
Cultural Status Symbol
As with so many other Apple products, AirPods became status symbols. You can find them adorning the ears of celebrities like Kristen Stewart, politicians like Rudy Giuliani, and numerous entrepreneurs around the world. There was even a meme floating around in 2019 (you can still see it alive and well today) called AirPod flexing. From people showing off their AirPods to simply making fun of how popular they were, this built exposure and a higher need for these products.
Apple has a formula that has worked for them. They’re able to build overwhelming attention for products mixed with extravagant prices. This has led to a sense of cultural wealth and status for anyone who has an Apple product until it becomes so commonplace that everyone has it.
AirPods exist in an area now that’s new and exciting with a rippling effect that touched every other brand. Plus, for all the complaints, they look cool and that’s all that matters.
Apple AirPods started like many other Apple products. Born from a sense of pushing the world forward technologically mixed with a senseless cash grab, they made an exciting product that every other phone brand has replicated. Now you’re hard-pressed to find a phone with a traditional headphone jack. They’re cultural status symbols that look cool. Despite their high price and subpar audio quality, they are here to stay.