WSJ Report on Apple’s Mysterious AirPods Delay

Tripp Mickle, reporting for the WSJ:

The AirPod delay marks the first time Apple has postponed release of a product since its white iPhone 4 in 2010, Mr. Moorhead said. Then, Apple cited manufacturing challenges.

In the case of AirPods, the cause remains unclear. The earbuds contain a new chip that Apple developed. But the same chip is included in two models of headphones, which are available for sale, from Apple’s Beats unit.

A person familiar with the development of the AirPod said the trouble appears to stem from Apple’s effort to chart a new path for wireless headphones. In most other wireless headphones, only one earpiece receives a signal from the phone via wireless Bluetooth technology; it then transmits the signal to the other earpiece.

Apple has said AirPod earpieces each receive independent signals from an iPhone, Mac or other Apple device. But Apple must ensure that both earpieces receive audio at the same time to avoid distortion, the person familiar with their development said. That person said Apple also must resolve what happens when a user loses one of the earpieces or the battery dies.

The rest of the article is useless speculation. I’m not even sure that this one source — the “person familiar with the development of the AirPod” — is correct. My prototype AirPods have no trouble staying in sync. They’ve never once been out of sync, in fact. There have been a small handful of times when one of the two buds turns off, and audio only plays through one of them. But I’ve only seen that three or four times, tops, and in each case it was fixed by putting the AirPods back in the case for a second or two.

If Apple could mass produce AirPods that worked exactly like my review unit pair does, it would be great. Not perfect, but totally great. These AirPods are my favorite new Apple product in years — exactly as they are. It makes more sense to me that Apple has run into a manufacturing problem, not that they discovered a design defect after they were announced.

More difficult to manufacture at scale than expected” is also what I’ve heard through the grapevine, from a little birdie who knows someone on the AirPods engineering team. Things like what happens when you lose one or the battery dies — Apple solved those problems during development.

Update: After publishing this, I’ve heard from another little birdie who heard the same thing: unexpected manufacturing problem at scale.

Friday, 9 December 2016