By Jason Snell
December 15, 2016 1:06 PM PT
AirPods: Your burning questions, answered
Apple’s AirPods are up for pre-order and arriving in Apple Stores next week. I’ve got a set in hand, and rather than jumping straight to the review, I thought I’d answer some of the most common questions I’m seeing about Apple’s new wireless earbuds.
Do they fit the same as Apple’s standard EarPods? Because those keep falling out of my ears.
The main earbud portion of the AirPods seems to be identical in shape and size to the existing wired Apple EarPods. (The stem is bigger and thicker, owing to all the electronics that are packed within.) So they’ll probably fit your ears more or less the same as EarPods do.
The big difference is in the lack of wires coming out of the bottom of the stems. You may not notice the force that wires exert, constantly pulling against your ears and trying to coax those earbuds out of position, but compare the feeling of wearing EarPods to AirPods and you will realize that those wires really do have an impact. I never felt that EarPods were reliably seated in my ears, and they would often fall out; the AirPods stay in my ears even if I simulate enthusiastic headbanging. The only time I’ve had an AirPod fall out so far is when I took off my hoodie and the hood snagged on one of the AirPods, popping it out. The rest of the time, they’ve felt solid and secure in my ears without feeling weighty.
Is there any way to stop it automatically playing music when you put it in your ear?
This is actually a misunderstanding of how the AirPods work. When you connect and disconnect them, they’re basically emulating how wired headphones work with iOS devices. If you’re already playing audio when you connect them, that audio will start playing out of the AirPods. If you’re not playing audio, nothing happens. Likewise, when you take the AirPods out of your ears or connect them to a different device, the audio stops playing just as sure as if you unplugged a set of headphones.
The one exception is how the AirPods handle a situation where you take an AirPod out of your ear momentarily. When you do this, your device audio pauses temporarily. When you put the AirPod back in your ear, your device audio resumes. In this way, taking one AirPod out of an ear is an interface command—it’s literally the equivalent of tapping the play/pause button.
Can you use them one at a time, with full functionality?
I heard this question from several runners who are expecting to need to conserve battery power on long runs. (The battery life is five hours, how long are you people running?!) The answer is yes: If you use a single AirPod, it will work just fine, and your iPhone will switch over to a mono mixdown so that you hear both sides of any stereo audio. It also means, as my pal Adam Engst pointed out, that you can run with one AirPod in and your other ear uncovered—which is smart if you’re running on roads and need to listen for traffic.
Can you wear them a long time before your ears start to hurt?
I got a lot of questions about the comfort of the AirPods, and there’s no good way to answer this question because everyone’s ears are shaped differently. The first time I went out with the AirPods, my right ear started to hurt after about half an hour. I readjusted the earbud and it was more comfortable, and since then I’ve had no problems because I discovered the “right” way for the AirPods to sit in my ears. But I can make no promises — if you hate earbuds you may hate AirPods. They may be wireless marvels, but they’re still earbuds.
What happens when you double-tap an AirPod?
By default, this brings up Siri—on iOS and the Mac. But you can change your iOS settings to make this gesture instead equate to the play/pause button. To do so, go to the Bluetooth menu in Settings, tap the Info button next to your AirPods, and choose Play/Pause from the Double Tap On AirPods menu. From this menu you can also turn off the “ear detection” feature if you’d rather your device not react when you’re taking your AirPods in and out of your ears.
If you pair AirPods with a Bluetooth-compatible device that hasn’t been designed to work specifically with the AirPods—I used an Android phone for my testing—they’ll still work, and the double-tap gesture generates a Play/Pause command.
Can you voice-control AirPods when you don’t have an Internet connection?
Nope, and this seems like a real oversight. Before there was Siri, there was Voice Control, which let you perform basic on-device functions like media playback without the use of the Internet. Maybe Siri should be able to perform basic playback functions like volume control without an Internet connection?
Can I have them?
Sure. Get out your credit card and stop by your local Apple Store. But no, you can’t have mine.
More questions? Tweet them @jsnell and I’ll try to answer, here or there.
If you appreciate articles like this one, support us by becoming a Six Colors subscriber. Subscribers get access to an exclusive podcast, members-only stories, and a special community.