I’d just come off another run with Apple’s Powerbeats Pro to find out that, finally, the Airpods Pro have been announced.
Why finally? Because these are the headphones that any iPhone user has needed since the first Airpods, those little white toothbrush-head-alikes, were launched in 2016.
When they first launched, the earbuds looked so different they made me feel ridiculous. Wearing them down the street, I found myself wanting to cover my ears. Nowadays you can’t move in any city without seeing two or three people with little white ear protrusions, such is the popularity of Apple’s top true wireless earbuds.
That’s not the reason that runners or fitness fans will rejoice about the Airpods Pro though – it’s because finally Apple has recognized the key reason people have been using these earbuds while working out.
A frustrating experience
When I first used the Airpods on a run, I was sorely disappointed. They just kept falling out, which was irritating because I was starting to enjoy the simplicity of the little white sound sticks, the smooth opening action of the case… Apple’s strong design was starting to make its new headphones a regular part of the day.
That’s what users want – a set of headphones that can transition from commuting companion to fitness friend with a swipe of an iPhone screen. Not something that’s only good for when you’re sitting quietly.
If I can’t run with wireless headphones, then they’re useless to me – and that was the case for many other runners too with the original Airpods. The lack of a silicon tip meant that the fit wasn’t secure enough, and that looks like it’s been solved with the new Airpods Pro.
That more secure fit (and smaller overall footprint) is what makes the new Airpods seem like they’ll be a better option for fitness enthusiasts, whether for running, gym workouts or yoga.
You could argue that Apple has already solved this issue with the Powerbeats Pro – and yes, they’re so, so much better at staying in when you’re jogging around.
That’s because they’re much larger than the standard Airpods, and come with a big ol’ clip. That extra arm means that you’re not going to have any issues with them falling out, and they pack the H1 chip inside – so they instantly pair with any iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch or Mac connected to your iCloud account.
It’s hard to overstate how good that instant connection feels, the ecosystem Apple is desperate to lock users into working at its smoothest. But the Powerbeats Pro, for all their stability, still have one major issue.
Both the headphones, and the case they come in, are massive.
Fit and function for the whole day
The thing is, both the ‘normal’ Airpods and the Powerbeats Pro are two sides of a coin the former comes in a small package that slips easily in and out of one’s daily life, and the latter is a fitness powerhouse.
With the Airpods Pro, you’re getting both in one package. A small set of wireless earbuds that can be discreetly used throughout the day, slipping in and out of a pocket on a commute, and a powerful set of of headphones that will actually stay in when flinging your head about (ones that also pack that all-important sweat-resistance too).
That ‘powerful’ point is important – because while both the Airpods and Powerbeats Pro both have a direct connection to Siri, they don’t have the extra capability to allow for noise cancelling.
There are times when you want to truly immerse yourself in music, where it’s ‘headphones on, world off’ so you can just focus on weeping internally with the pain of moving your body.
Having active noise cancellation brings that, and it’s high time Apple added it to one of its more popular lines of headphones. This noise cancellation can work in reverse too – with a simple tap (we assume – we’ve not tried them yet) you can open up the microphone to let the sound in from the outside world.
If you’re someone who runs near traffic or somewhere you just feel more comfortable hearing your surroundings, true fitness headphones always have a mode to let the sound pass-through – so it’s good Apple has realized it needs to add this mode in.
An expensive endeavor
For all the above, these Airpods are still a pretty expensive set of wireless earbuds – at $249 / £249, they’re hardly the cheapest thing that Apple has ever unleashed (especially when last year’s Airpods can be had for nearly half the price these days).
We’ve also not actually tried the headphones either – for all the much-vaunted improvement to the fit, they might still not be as snug and secure as Apple would have you believe. While it’s great that an automatic equalizer can tune the sound to your ear, if they’re constantly falling out and down the nearest drain the second you take a single step at pace then that feature is somewhat redundant.
However, it shows that the fitness fan – be it a runner, gym-lover or yoga-obsessive – is being given greater and greater options when it comes to accessing music during a workout. Dropping those pesky wires, popping in a couple of small earbuds and letting the world melt away is a truly awesome thing and one that’s actually still a relatively recent phenomenon.
Apple’s Airpods kicked other brands into improving their wares – Sony’s WF-1000XM3 Wireless Earbuds and the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1‘s are far more powerful wireless earbuds, and have had to be to overcome the ease and simplicity that the original Airpods offered.
Will the Airpods Pro have the same effect? Here’s hoping – because having a set of fitness-friendly, Apple-centric earbuds that can be used throughout the day will bea huge lure to many iPhone users – and if brands make something more attractive than that, then it’s the user who really wins.
Gareth Beavis is TechRadar’s Running Man of Tech, bringing you his terrible attempts to get fitter through technology.