It is interesting that Apple chose not to give these stage time at the September event, only to be available for holiday sales a month later. It seems unlikely that the fate of the product was unknown then. Manufacturing and freight alone make up a several week lead time. Obviously, the AirPower embarrassment looms over the company but I haven’t quite worked out the new policy; the Mac Pro and Deep Fusion are just two examples of things that they had no qualms in previewing ahead of time.
The new AirPods Pro are a logical addition to the AirPods family. I bet for a lot of people, the draw of AirPods Pro is simply having another shot at a design that is comfortable for their ears. ‘One size fits all’ AirPods did a good job at covering a wide spectrum of human ear shapes, but clearly there were people left out — either due to comfort or looseness. AirPods Pro, and its three choices of ear tips, should fill in the gaps.
The change from a double-tap to a press is something that I hope trickles down to the normal AirPods. The double-tap gesture means pushing the buds down your ear canal, with a relatively strong intensity lets the AirPods not detect your intent. With the new force sensor in the stem, the idea is you can just pinch either side of the stalk, mimicking the press of inline buttons on old Apple wired headphones. As you press down evenly with a finger on both sides of the stalk, the AirPods Pro themselves should stay fixed in place and it won’t be anywhere near as uncomfortable as the tapping.
The Beats Studio and newly-released Beats Solo Pro feature active noise cancellation. It is effective but carries a fairly significant battery life penalty: the headphones boast 40 hours of music listening, but only 22 hours when active noise cancellation is turned on. Battery life is essentially halved. Because of this, when the design of the new AirPods Pro leaked, I automatically assumed that the noise cancellation features would be achieved by way of the natural sound isolation of in-ear buds, that is to say, passively. However, that is not the case. The AirPods Pro actually do have active noise cancellation (and a transparency mode like the Solo Pro). But what is intriguing is the quoted battery life impact is only half an hour. You get 4.5 hours of music playback compared to the normal 5 hours of AirPods battery life. I guess we’ll have to wait for the reviews to see if Apple took any shortcuts to achieve this feat.
The $250 price feels a little high although clearly Apple is going to have no trouble selling these given how in demand AirPods are in general. The price elasticity is obviously there. I hope Apple can find a way to get rid of the AirPods with (non-wireless) Charging Case SKU. The lineup does feel a little bloated. In a perfect world, you’d just have AirPods at $149 and AirPods Pro at $199.