Apple has a control over the tech marketplace that somehow coerces hundreds of dollars out of its existing customers and constantly converts people to their products everyday. As one of these people under their control, I must admit that plenty of their products aren’t especially better than products from other brands but their marketing ploys and the resulting “hype” pull me in everytime.
One of these products are the infamous AirPods — they’ve received their fair share of flack. These headphones are bluetooth, as are several other headphones on the market, and look like the normal wired Apple ear buds with the wires cut off. The designers most likely wanted to establish continuity between products and this shared silhouette between AirPods and normal earbuds does just that.
When I purchased these AirPods, I was extremely excited to join the hype but must admit that there was a definite learning curve as a result of their lack of affordances. First, the AirPods themselves connect automatically to the closest machine in range when their case is opened. Since I am guilty of not reading provided instructions, if it hadn’t been for my brother’s guidance on this front, I would’ve opened the case and probably would’ve been confused at this automatic connection.
Furthermore, the AirPods themselves do not have any buttons but have customizable controls when connected to a device. These controls include naming the AirPods, allowing for ear detection (another ambiguous feature), and changing what happens when either AirPod is double-tapped. However, as with many customizable settings on Apple devices, these controls are hidden away in the incredibly generic “Settings” application. In order to learn where to find all these controls and to learn about “ear detection” I had to Google them, therefore making my learning experience rather complex. Even once I set these controls, I still have to look up what I set them to, decreasing the memorability of these controls and my likelihood of using them along with it.
Ear detection, on the other hand, is incredibly clever as it pauses music when a user removes one AirPod and resumes music when the AirPod is replaced. Since wired headphones are wired and would fall off completely if both were removed, wired headphone users are already conditioned to just remove one headphone when talking to someone or listening to something. While this idea isn’t necessarily afforded by the AirPods’ physical features, it is a feature that can be easily discovered when a user removes one headphone for listening-related acts.
My biggest confusion with these AirPods, however, is the one affordance they have: a mysterious small white button on the back of the case. However, given that all the AirPods’ capabilities that I found on the internet satisfy all the functionality needs I could think of, this particular affordance is a bit concerning. I later found out that this button lets AirPods connect to devices other than Apple products. Considering people’s tendencies to push buttons that are there since that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do, this button is incredibly misleading as people don’t have to push it and could face some difficulty and inefficiency in trying to connect to their Apple devices as a result.
Ultimately, to improve this design, I would include buttons on the side of each AirPod to replace the double-tap functionality as people are predisposed to using buttons. Furthermore, similar to Bose headphones or even the Apple Watch, I would create an app that controls connections to AirPods, functionality of the AirPod buttons, and naming the AirPods themselves. To minimize the additional work that users would need to do in order to use their AirPods, I would make the app preinstalled on all Apple Devices, similar to Apple Watch or Apple Music, and have preliminary settings in place. In particular, I think it’d be a safe bet to use a similar control configuration to the remote on wired Apple headphones simply because most AirPod users will be former wired headphones users since they are most likely general Apple device users. The most obvious for me would be to make volume adjustable by using the right AirPod button to increase volume and the left AirPod button to decrease volume. The user would also double click the button on the right AirPod to skip songs.