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AirPods used to feel like the future, but now they're a relic of the past

mashable.com
7 min read
fairly easy
Can Apple catch up in the race it started?
As recently as 2019, AirPods were unquestionably the best wireless earbuds in the game. Those telltale white stems were visible everywhere you looked — the streets, the office, the subway, and schools. It's that runaway success which may have led Apple to get, not lazy but complacent in the past couple of years. By not releasing any meaningful hardware updates to its entry-level AirPods, Apple has effectively ceded ground to a tidal wave of great low-cost earbuds from rivals. And now it seems as if the former market leader is stuck playing catch-up.

Although most of the tech world expected to see the heavily rumored third-generation AirPods release at Apple's iPhone 13 launch event, that didn't happen. We saw four new iPhones, a new Apple Watch, and even some new iPads, but Apple left us hanging with the one product that arguably needs a refresh more urgently than any of the others.

After setting the standard for wireless earbuds back in 2016 and dominating the marketplace in the years since, Apple's mysterious, present-day silence about a follow-up is puzzling, to say the least. So as we wait indefinitely for the next pair of Apple's earbuds to drop, let's review how we even got to this point and where Apple could go from here.

From goofy to commonplace

They weren't always fashionable. Credit: Edward Berthelot / Getty Images

When Apple first unveiled the original AirPods five years ago, even those of us who like Apple products tended to agree that they seemed a little silly. Many of us wondered: Who would want to walk around with these long, white stems protruding out from their ears? Wouldn't it be far too easy to lose these earbuds since they aren't tethered by any wires? But even as early coverage from sites like ours praised the earbuds (despite their humorous appearance), what came next was fairly shocking.

AirPods became a huge hit. One market study from Slice Intelligence found that Apple had jumped from zero percent of wireless headphones market…
Alex Perry
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