Why I believe Airpods are the new iPhone.
I believe the future will be voice-centered. Audio interfaces will replace digital screens and we will prefer listening over reading.
In other words, I believe Airpods are the new iPhone, or “smart-earbuds” are the new smart-phone.
My prediction is that Airpod wearing time will increase (AWT), Apple will innovate with every model, and we will soon be using our Airpods to browse the internet, manage our health, daily tasks, shopping, ordering an Uber, and even finding meaningful human connections.
The iPhone introduced a new mobile interface and defined an era of human interactivity. Every year we waited patiently for the keynote address as the future unfolded before our eyes. The iPhone captivated our imaginations.
Eventually, we hit a natural point of inflection when the iPhone had exhausted the current possibilities of the digital screen interfaces and hardware advancements were no longer a felt-need. (3d touch, more pixels, faster processor, etc)
At this point, Apple introduced a highly ridiculed set of wireless earbuds that quickly became Apple’s second best selling product out of the gate.
As always, strokes of genius precede the mainstream imagination. At first, the Airpods were an auxiliary product but now they’re a movement.
Apple has already sold over 100M Airpods, and this is only the beginning. Just as smartphones became a necessity for members of civilized society in the past decade, I believe smart-earbuds (SEB) will define the next.
The utility of keeping Airpods in our ears.
It used to be that we put on earbuds only if we’re listening to music; once we’re done, we take them out. But now, these comfy ear-pillows remain in our ears ushering a new social norm: In-person conversation while wearing Airpods. I think we need a new word for this social phenomenon.
What’s more, Apple has already filed patents for biotech sensors allowing the Airpods not only to play music but also to monitor our health.
The utility is too good and the timing is just right. Holding your phone up to your ear isn’t comfortable, you can’t multi-task, and your life is in danger if you’re driving.
The Airpods fill all the remaining gaps of boredom in our lives with music, news, sports, journalism, and entertainment. We’re addicted to mental stimulation and the Airpods have finally redeemed all the moments in between.
The social factors driving Airpod Wearing Time
People don’t like to be alone; even worse, to be seen alone.
It gives the impression that you’re socially inadequate or that you don’t have many friends. Consequently, we’re always on the phone, creating the impression that we’re needed by someone.
Airpods provide an elegant solution for this peculiar social conundrum. I remember the first time I initiated a conversation with a stranger on the streets of New York wearing Airpods. I asked him what he was listening to and he replied, “Oh, I’m not listening to anything, I just keep them in.” Sensing the unusual nature of this behavior, he started to justify it saying things like, “They keep my ears warm.”
But I wasn’t fooled. He was alone and the Airpods made him feel like he was connected to other people.
What happens when Airpod wearing time increases.
Elon Musk has often said that the greatest bottleneck in human advancement is bandwidth. We can only type or read so fast. The flow of information using the traditional smartphone interface is inherently slow.
While Neuralink is a giant leap forward, perhaps a good baby-step is something like we saw in the movie “Her“. Theodore, beautifully played by Joaquin Phoenix, has a small “Airpod” which connects him to a powerful AI at all times.
In that movie, we get a glimpse of how smart ear-buds can decrease the bandwidth issue. While speaking is only slightly faster than typing, the ease of use makes a dramatic difference. You no longer have to reach inside your pocket, pull out a small computer, unlock the screen, find your browser and tap on a tiny screen in the middle of winter with clumsy fingers, only to learn that the Central Perk cafe is already closed.
We have a fascinating relationship developing with search algorithms. Not only is Google learning how to show relevant results, but we’re also learning how to formulate our questions to get the best answer. We’re at a point where the second page is virtually irrelevant. If the first page fails us, we simply rephrase the question.
Over 20% of all searches are already happening using the voice and many predict that it will double in 1–2 years. Smart speakers have proven that voice-enabled tech works and I believe it will enter the mainstream consciousness as the experiential gap between smart speakers and Airpods (and perhaps cars) becomes marginal.
Once this happens, we enter into a new layer of social abstraction. Now we have access to one another, and information at large, in a completely new way.
Smart-phones, smart-speakers, and now smart-earbuds.
I anticipate that this new social abstraction will create an opportunity for a social platform, unlike anything we’ve seen before. It’s hard to predict exactly what it will look like. This is why our Listen App project starts with something that already makes sense in audio: podcasting.
Join us on this fascinating journey as we create a social audio experience we can all love.