Apple has unveiled a rebelious futuristic new gadget that has the potential to rearrange our relationship to technology.
No, not the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, which represent at best a stepwise improvement over their nearly identical-looking predecessors, and at worst a downgrade, depending on how dearly you’ll miss the analog headphone jack.
I’m talking about the AirPods, those $159 wireless earpieces that Apple offered as the priciest of several alternatives to the audio dilemma it created for its own users. And no, I’m not joking.
In essence, Apple has launched a new device category in the guise of an overpriced iPhone accessory. The AirPods are the company’s first ear computer.
It’s easy to glance at the AirPods, their price tag, and all the ways Apple stands to gain from them, and to write them off as a frivolous upsell. It is suspiciously convenient for Apple that its new flagship phones will singlehandedly create a mass market for expensive new categories of headphones that it’s uniquely positioned to dominate, thanks to its 2014 acquisition of Beats. It’s equally easy—and correct—to mock Apple VP of Marketing Phil Schiller’s runic rationale for jettisoning the jack: “It comes down to one word: courage.” (You can find a slightly more illuminating glimpse into the process that informed Apple’s decision in this BuzzFeed piece.) No wonder the public’s first reaction was to gripe about how likely the AirPods are to be misplaced, or even swallowed. Celebrities also reacted on Twitter to the launch of Airpods. Here are some of the tweets:
Yet, for once, Apple’s announcement of a new gizmo may have undersold, rather than oversold, its transformative potential. And I suspect that was on purpose.
Image: screenshot from Apple website.