On the Disposability of AirPods

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

If your AirPods are out of warranty, Apple will replace them for $49 per stick — so in reality, $98 total. A replacement for the charging case, which doesn’t wear out as quickly, is also $49. The key phrase to say is “battery service.” (Apple is providing additional training to customer service representatives on that point, but if you still have trouble, show them this link — or this column.)

When you think about it, it is rather ridiculous that once the batteries in AirPods die, they’re disposable. Paul Kafasis and I talked about this back in March on my podcast.

But what’s the alternative? Fowler holds up Samsung’s Galaxy Buds:

Sealing up electronics with glue instead of screws and latches can help make devices lighter and more resistant to moisture and dust. But great ear buds — even ones tiny enough to sit in your ears — don’t have to be impenetrable. iFixit found a way to pop open Samsung’s $129 Galaxy Buds, so replacement batteries can slip in kind of like on a watch. Samsung doesn’t officially offer this repair option, but iFixit sells a pair of replacement batteries for $29.

They’ll sell you the batteries (although at this writing iFixit’s website claims to be sold out), but good luck installing them. iFixit does not have a repair guide for the Galaxy Buds, and the teardown video they do have is expressly labeled “not a repair guide”. There’s a reason why Samsung doesn’t offer a repair option. As for being “great ear buds” — reviewers disagree.

AirPods’s disposability is a problem, and it runs counter to Apple’s staunch pro-environmental messaging, but it’s a problem shared by every set of ear buds in the category. Keep in mind too, that a solution to this problem needs to account for weight, waterproofing, appearance, comfort, and cost. It’s a hard problem to solve, obviously. I’d be happy with next-generation AirPods that solve nothing but this problem.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019