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Apple’s AirPods Max — Everything To Know

Is the magic still here?

https://www.apple.com/airpods-max/

Just recently Apple has quietly dropped their long-awaited headphones that Apple Leaker Jon Prosser has been telling us months before any hint of its arrival.

@jon_prosser

As you already know, they’re called ‘AirPods Max.’

I honestly don’t think AirPods is the best name but if you look at the rest of Apple’s lineup, all of their audio products have a ‘Pod’ in them;

  • Ear Pods
  • Home Pods
  • AirPods
  • iPod

In short, ‘Pods’ is Apple’s way to say music. But they can’t be the premium and Apple product without a hefty price tag of $550.

There’s nothing ordinary about these headphones and here is everything you need to know about these headphones.

Design

The Design Legacy

Apple has failed at many things over the years. This product is a win because of technology. The appearance is not the greatest. Customers miss the risk-taker and trendsetter Johny Ive. Nobody has been able to fill his shoes. It was an irreparable loss to Apple.

It is unfortunate that innovation and design is a secondary consideration. The world has learned from Steve Jobs how design can be the driver for success. What a company does in design defines its brand. I wish Apple gives due importance to design and get back on the innovation saddle. Apple needs design leadership and not design its product through focus groups.

They’re still the best in the business when it comes to precision manufacturing and brand loyalty built over 3 decades. So whatever Apple produces will sell in the short term like crazy but I am not sure how this will affect the long term legacy of the company if a new disruptor comes to the market. Apple is turning into the BMW brand in my opinion. BMW was once a great brand and now living off its name. Its marketing uses the word design now, but it fails to evoke positive emotions in the minds of users. Their legacy is faltering…

Product design

The headphones have a stainless steel flexible frame and aluminum ear cups with shiny telescoping arms and ball head joints on the ear cups that let them move around a little over 90 degrees overall. There is no doubt these are built very well. The design is very sleek, sophisticated and clean.The contours, surface modeling, the tolerances, fit, and finish achieved in the AirPod Max is sublime and incredible. It’s a work of art and full marks to Apple on that. Apple has consistently done this to all their products.

However, comfort is the main priority and these are going to sit on top of the head pretty nice. Fluffy cotton and candy soft pillow are the words I can think of when I see this product. The product feels light and comfortable by its looks but feels heavy even though it comes at a weight of 386 grams.

The AirPods look bulky when the world is trying to reduce the clutter, weight, and options in a device. Consider how the first iPhone had such a simple design compared to the phones during that time. Apple has set such benchmarks and customers expect the same from every new product release. Expect some users to complain about how the bulky AirPod’s headband ruins their hairstyle and puts pressure on their scalp. It is a design problem to be solved that is not fully solved.

Comfort, fit, and customization are all good attributes for a product.

Aeron Chair Headband

The soft mesh headband looks like a Herman Miller Aeron chair. It was used to distribute the weight as evenly as possible across your head and be breathable as great benefit for long usage. However, I fear the knitted fabric they used will most likely to pick up dirt and grease fast (especially the white one). Was this the right material to use? There should be some official explanation. Some fabrics are very non-porous and easy to clean, whereas others just suck up dirt like crazy.

Generosity or Greed?

The ear cups magnetic are able to pop off with some added pressure. Something important to take note of is that consumer electronics are not made for long term use. They eventually end up forgotten and in the trash when a new version is out. That is why the decision to create magnetic ear cups is intelligent. It is good that Apple is thinking about the aging of the product by creating replaceable ear cups. Many people just buy new headphones and buying a $600 product again is just too much. So, Apple is very happy to sell you some new ear pads for — drum roll please — -a not-so cheap $69 a set! It's a bitter-sweet moment…

Is Apple Getting into Fashion?

The smaller original AirPods don’t have the logo. This may be a kind of flex and Apple thinks their designs are very unique and recognizable enough. Another reason maybe is because it is a wearable device. Neither Apple Watch or the other AirPods show a logo. Apple wants their products to look like clothing in the future and blend with whatever a customer is wearing. There have been some news articles on Apple filing patents for cloth materials to be used as tech products. Here is another one on smart adjustable fabric.

Nothing for kids

There are very few products in the Apple lineup for kids and teenagers. As a 12 year old, I sometimes feel disappointed. May parents lovingly share their expensive Apple products with me but as a future Apple advocate, I want to also be considered by Apple team when Apple designs any product.

Male or female

Apple has done well with providing different color options to cater to both males and females. In the entire headphone market segment, females have very few options in general. It is a positive move by Apple to make it lifestyle-driven, gender-neutral and have options for females by adding colors like Red, Minty Green and Sky Blue . The market for Apple AirPods has widened now by 50%. It is a matter of more research to find out if females would go well with such bulky headphones. Could this change the contours of their face/silhouette when seen against the light or in dark? Does it interfere with earrings of both genders?

AirPod Max Color Variety
AirPod Max Color Variety

You can do the same with the magnetic ear cups. Similar to the Apple Watch Bands, you can buy extra ear cups a pair in different colors and customers could match them with their wardrobe? However, the price for each set being $70 is just too much.

macrumors.com

Smart Case

During this rough time of this pandemic, it’s important to just laugh. That is what Apple gave me when I looked at this ‘Smart Case.’

It looks more like a handbag than a ‘Smart Case’ In fact, I don’t see anything smart with this. (Don’t worry — They come with the headphones). Do we think someone will walk around holding this? It might be an invitation to thieves!

So the headphones literally just slot in here and close with a magnet but the fact that the most durable part of the headphone is covered and the least durable part — the mesh — is your carrying strap. Instead of the most exposed part and the headphones aren’t even fully protected. As Marques Brownlee on YouTube shows on his video;

There’s like slots in here. I understand you can charge here if you want to plug them in via lightning but what is all this — This case is weird!

Marques Brownlee

Something frustrating to note is that there is no On/Off button on these headphones. Instead, you put them in the case and when the magnet shuts, it detects that they’re in the case and they go into a low-power state to save battery. Two benefits that come from this case are that you don’t have to remember to turn them off after a session and as soon as you take them out of the case they wake up. However, that means you have to use the case to turn the headphones off.

This situation isn’t exactly ideal and Apple Fanboys/girls can agree.

Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H95 vs Apple AirPod Max

The product will be seen in a niche ‘luxury’ and ‘magic’ category often associated with the brand Bang-Olufsen. Customers will compare it to their flagship headphone Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95. It is simply beautiful and looks high-end. I would love to write a comparison article on the two, but can’t afford either. Unless of course Apple and Bang & Olufsen give me their product for testing :)

https://www.bang-olufsen.com/en/headphones/beoplay-h95

When looking at Beoplay H95, Apple AirPod does not look revolutionary to customers. I like Bowers and Wilkins and they are in the same price range, and very soon people will start comparing the sound quality and critiquing Apple. It will a matter of time when other competitors in the market will come up with their luxury versions and catch up.

If you look around now, every other headphone will looks small, loaded with features, and very complex compared to Apple Airbuds. As in the past, other companies will inevitably ape the trend Apple has been setting for them and they will come up with bigger and bolder versions than Apple. Apple will still win because of the brand loyalty and the ecosystem it has built.

User Interface

There are no touch controls anywhere on the sides of either of the earcups except for an extra noise cancellation button just to go on or off. Instead, they borrow the digital crown from the Apple Watch. Maybe Apple wants to have consistency across products. I have my doubts about its placement and ergonomics. Is it easy to reach for volume control? What if someone has long hair. Will they be able to reach the controls? It does look very small and the surface seems very smooth. This could/or not be much of a stretch compared to say Sony’s headphone where the entire surface is interactive?

Any who, on the AirPods Max, you can spin that digital crown for the volume, tap-to answer calls or double-tap to go forward, triple-tap to go back, etc and there’s more flexibility with the controls in iOS 14.

Sound

As of right now, there aren't any reviews out to give the explanation but we already know the answer. The AirPods Pro earphones are known for their exceptional quality of audio experience and noise cancellation. So we know that the headphones are that good if not more!

Wireless headphones tend to be much lower sound quality than wired headphones. If someone is truly interested in sound quality and nothing else, then there are better options that are wired headphones to give you the best sound quality. Which is why Apple killing its wired headphone products and wants to change user behavior towards wireless. They’ve already depicted a negative picture painted towards them like “They’re not the future” and whatnot.

We might see Apple removing its headphone jack in the upcoming Macbook models. They already did that with their phones and iPads. This is a strategy to destroy and dominate the headphone competition. They have already have many doors open thanks to the AirPods’ success.

Is Apple’s Marketing Right?

I also think a large part of the product is its ability to be gifted to others. It will be a good gift to give during this holiday season. Apple has the advantage of being an ecosystem and thus every product people gift becomes a part of the customer’s own family of Apple products.

Apple has also lost an opportunity to attach this product with other products. For example, how cool will it be to get something free from iTunes or getting its fledgling free Apple TV+ for life?

The audiophile market is pretty tiny for people who want to own $550 headphones and flaunt them as luxury status symbols. Status symbols, in my opinion, is the inability of society to truly assess the real value of a product and throwing money as a competitive response to others who own the same thing. So my question to Apple is if they think only affluent people in the world are their customers or can they do something for the lower middle class and poor around the world too? Apple should offer cheaper options for the same product for the lower end of this market segment. We have Macbook Pro and Macbook Air. So why can’t we have the same in headphones?

Actually, we have the answer to that. Those of you who don’t know, Apple owns Beats and if they did the “AirPods SE,” then that attacks Beats. :/

Will Apple AirPods succeed in the market?

Can someone explain why Apple is charging $550 for over-the-ear headphones? For the same reason, they can sell $1,200 phones.

It’s an absurd price for headphones. As much has quality it brings almost $600 for a pair of headphones…in this economy. Apple should be sensitive. Apple has the ability to create flawless marketing, backed by amazing product design, and an ability to charge whatever the hell they want.

For a first-gen product entering an already established market with big dogs like Sony, Sennheiser, and such, Apple’s asking for a lot, especially for repackaging already established technology from their home pods and AirPods — At the end of the day, I believe Apple will come out on top because the market loves an apple product.

With the shift in headphone advancements being more on the computational side; Apple is defining the premium audio experience for people. Spatial audio will be the true value people will get from these headphones.

I imagine these will be really good headphones for those of us 100% in the Apple ecosystem already.

Did I criticize Apple AirPod Max or appreciate them?

I am a huge fan of Apple. It is very easy to be a critic. My goal in this article was to be very objective and neutral so that my readers and get a transparent view of this product. I also believe Apple should be reading such reviews and improving their products. I understand how hard it must to create a product and bring it into the market. I have no idea the kind of constraints designers and engineers at Apple were facing. Many times I have heard design decisions are taken in boardrooms by top executives and not by designers.

I would have liked these headphones to be waterproof so people can walk in the rain and enjoy both rain and music. This is the kind of emotional connection and storytelling I was talking about that tech product today are missing.

I still feel earcup is a big problem. (pun intended). I would have liked if Apple would have considered scaling the whole bulky product a little bit and made it look sleek and small. Or maybe taken a completely different innovation route where headphones are mostly invisible and less loud. A headphone that can adapt to any clothing a customer is wearing and does not change the face outline of the customer. Now, this is a difficult brief and big problem for Apple to solve in their next version of Apple Airpod.

Alas, someone contacts me and I can give them a ton of such ideas for free.

What do you think?

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Raghav Gopal Bharadwaj

Raghav Gopal Bharadwaj

I’m a fourteen funny weird geek who’s passionate about life, electronics, and other stuff. I am a writer for The Startup as well!

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