Apple will reportedly unveil new AirPods models next year, which I’m going to refer to as the AirPods 4 family. Yes, that’s plural because Apple will supposedly replace the AirPods 2 and AirPods 3 models in its current inventory with two wireless earphones that will sell for around the same prices.
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The more money you’re willing to pay, the better the AirPods experience you’ll get. We’ve already explained why the rumored AirPods 4 strategy is annoying. Rather than going for a simpler AirPods family, Apple will complicate things in an attempt to offer its earbuds at various price points. It’ll continue to be difficult to choose between the best possible experience (AirPods Pro) and a model that’s more budget-friendly.
That’s not necessarily an issue for me, as I’m looking for something else from the AirPods 4 model I’ll inevitably get. I want an AirPods redesign that makes it possible for Apple to easily replace the battery.
However, I don’t think Apple is ready — or willing — to make that happen.
The problem I have with the AirPods and any other wireless earphones is that I have to keep buying new ones every few years. Rather than Apple (and other vendors) replacing the degraded batteries with fresh ones, we all have to purchase new hardware over and over.
Batteries, of course, continue to age ungracefully. A few years after your purchase, the AirPods will not hold a decent enough charge, and you’ll want them to be repaired. Apple can do it for you, but it charges you a fee to replace the buds and/or the case. Another option is a discount on buying brand-new AirPods. Bizarrely, the second choice is the more affordable one.
In either case, you’re essentially paying for a new pair of AirPods when the old model could’ve kept working just fine. It’s one thing to upgrade to new AirPods Pro and Max versions because of the superior sound, noise cancelation algorithms, and other features. But not all buyers want to do that. And the AirPods Pro will eventually need replacing for the same reason.
DIY transparent AirPods Pro case design. Image source: YouTube
As I explained in the past, the AirPods unibody design makes battery replacement impossible. And Apple hasn’t figured out a better way to manufacture the AirPods.
The AirPods 4 models will reportedly look a lot like the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro. They’ll feature smaller stems and no replaceable tips, if the rumors are accurate. The report didn’t say anything about repairability. That makes me think Apple can’t deliver such a design. Or it doesn’t want to.
After all, it’s more lucrative for the company to sell the same customer a new pair of AirPods every 2-3 years, rather than replacing batteries for a lower fee.
Then again, these are early rumors. And leakers do not always get the full picture. Apple could very well end up surprising us. Maybe Mother Nature can show up again and hold a meeting with Tim Cook & Co. about AirPods sustainability.
At the very least, Apple could make the AirPods case easier to disassemble for battery replacements. You know, baby steps.
There is one engineer in Switzerland who made an AirPods Pro case with USB-C before Apple did. He also created a case that you can service yourself. And he made a transparent AirPods Pro case version, as seen in the image above.
It might seem unreasonable to expect Apple to fix this AirPods problem in the immediate future. But I don’t want only Apple to come up with AirPods designs that would support easy battery replacements. Every Apple rival should do it with their AirPods alternatives.
But Apple started this whole thing. It launched the AirPods alongside the iPhone 7, and then every smartphone vendor in the industry came up with their own version. Apple will also have to be at the forefront of this endeavor, by making AirPods repairable.