It’s not that easy to criticize the Apple AirPods Pro. Apple’s iconic white wireless earbuds get a lot of things right. If you’re an iPhone user, they’re one of the easiest products to recommend, even though there are plenty of competitors at the same or lower price.
Still, there are a few areas where Apple still has room for improvement. Here’s what we’d like to see in 2024.
First, credit where credit is due: The AirPods Pro already are some of the most capable wireless earbuds you can buy. They’re compact and comfortable, they support wireless charging, they have top-notch active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency, and their call quality is among the best you can get, especially when loud noises threaten to drown out your voice.
Apple has even made it a cinch to find the buds and their case should you lose them. Not only are they compatible with Apple’s Find My network — which turns everyone with an iPhone into your own personal private investigator — they also have ultra-wideband (UWB) built-in, so that you can get an almost perfect readout on where the lost item is located.
The head tracking spatial audio feature might not be for everyone, but Apple was one of the first companies to add this feature, and it deserves a lot of credit for helping to usher 3D immersive music formats like Dolby Atmos Music into the mainstream.
Nonetheless, audio quality is the one area where Apple has been content to deliver a good — but not quite great — experience. I’m not just talking about the way the AirPods Pro sound. I’m also talking about their wireless connectivity.
Bluetooth — the tech that nearly every set of wireless headphones and earbuds use to connect to your phone — has always had bandwidth limitations. These limitations mean that it’s very hard to transmit digital audio at its best quality. Some information must be removed, resulting in so-called “lossy” compression.
Several companies have tried to squeeze more audio quality out of Bluetooth with the use of proprietary codecs, like LDAC or aptX Adaptive, but Apple has refused to implement them on either the AirPods Pro or the iPhone. That’s kind of an embarrassment for Apple, which still hasn’t provided its customers with a way to enjoy all of the lossless and hi-res audio on Apple Music via its wireless headphones and earbuds.
There is another answer, however. Wi-Fi has always enjoyed massive bandwidth compared to Bluetooth. And the Hed Unity have proven you can use Wi-Fi in a set of wireless headphones — and it works. Despite some limitations on battery life, you can get lossless, hi-res audio up to 24-bit/96kHz and roam anywhere your Wi-Fi network covers.
Apple already knows that Wi-Fi is the answer to better audio quality. It built Wi-Fi into its H2 wireless chips — the same chips that are in the AirPods Pro Gen 2 and Gen 2 with USB-C. And it has been said that when you use the USB-C version with the Vision Pro headset, you’ll get lossless audio via Wi-Fi.
Given all of that, we want to see Apple turn on lossless, Wi-Fi-based audio on the AirPods Pro in 2024 for all listening — not just when you’re connected to Apple’s virtual reality headset.
With the update to Bluetooth LE Audio, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) also announced Bluetooth Auracast, a way for Bluetooth audio devices to listen to public Bluetooth broadcasts. Imagine being in an airport and being able to set your headphones to play all local public address announcements in your preferred language — that’s just one possible use of Auracast. It also can be used as a way to share your music with a friend.
The trouble is that Apple so far hasn’t announced any plans to support LE Audio on either the iPhone or the AirPods family of wireless headphones. Without LE Audio, there can be no Bluetooth Auracast. For 2024, we want to see Apple fully embrace the LE Audio standard, including Auracast and the two new audio codecs introduced along with LE Audio: LC3 and LC3+.
If you own lots of Apple devices, like an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac, Apple makes it easy to switch your AirPods Pro connection from one of these gadgets to another. But some of us spend our time in two worlds at once: we use an iPhone and, say, a Windows laptop. Because Apple doesn’t support Bluetooth Multipoint, switching between Apple and non-Apple devices on the AirPods Pro is a pain in the behind, requiring disconnecting and reconnecting within Bluetooth menus on both devices.
For 2024, we want Apple to enable Bluetooth Multipoint on the AirPods Pro so we can have simultaneous access to any two (or even three) devices, regardless of whether they were designed in Cupertino, California or not.
Finally — and this will surprise no one — we want the AirPods Pro to get better battery life. Granted, six hours seems like a decent amount of time to go between charges, and it is. But it’s amazing how quickly one can use up all six of those hours, and then the additional time packed into the charging case. No one likes the surprise of a dead (or dying) set of wireless buds — especially when you’re about to jump on an important call or videoconference — and longer battery life could help reduce the number of times that happens.
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