A few days ago, I ran the Jerusalem Marathon. As I lined up at the start line, I looked around and noticed the wide variety of runners around me; some were kitted out in compression socks and CamelBaks, and an interpid few wore nothing more than racing singlets and 2-inch split shorts in 52-degree weather.
In terms of “running tech,” most of the marathoners had a phone strapped to their biceps and then a paid of wired earbuds trailing from their arm to their head. Some runners – particularly those who seemed to have evidence of trail running or Ironman creds – wore Garmin or Suunto running watches, and only a handful of runners wore Apple Watches on their wrists. A good number of runners had Bluetooth earbuds and a very small number sported AirPods.
I was struck by two things:
Right now, AirPods are a pretty good proxy for an area’s relative purchasing power — perhaps moreso than iPhones. When I was last in New York in October, I was struck by the sheer number of folks walking around with AirPods in their ears. I wasn’t the only one who found NYC surprisingly AirPod-friendly. MG Siegler recently wrote “I’m just surprised at how fast AirPods have become ubiquitous in cities like New York.”
I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in Tel Aviv recently, and have noticed the moderate extent to which one sees AirPods on the street. It’s a far, far cry from San Francisco or New York, but it’s a reasonably high density for a city in the Middle East.
The second – and largely unrelated – thing that occured to me is how naturally the Apple Watch and AirPods combo is a nearly-perfect running setup.
For most runners, the key technological requirements while running are pace, time, heart rate, location, and, for many, music or podcasts. Some runners will actively use their phone’s camera to snap some #runspiration, but I’d argue that, by and large, running techies are well-served by a watch-and-wireless-earbuds setup.
But I say that the Apple Watch and AirPods are nearly perfect for a few reasons. Namely, the Apple Watch Series 3 doesn’t have the battery life for anything beyond a marathon, and sometimes not even that. For music lovers, there’s no Spotify app for WatchOS (more a deliberate choice by Spotify than by Apple, but still a bad call for end users).
AirPods are not sweat-proof, and they have a frustratingly limited number of tap-function choices, and so typical features like previous/play/pause/fast-forward are fairly limited.
What does all of this say? A few things:
- That we are in the early stages of true wireless earbuds, and that prices will drop as more companies enter the market.
- It’s interesting to speculate about whether or not Apple will license its proprietary W1 chip (the magic sauce that enables rapid pairing between AirPods and Apple devices), in the same way that it licensed Lightning connectivity capabilities to accessories producers.
- That we still have a little ways to go before AirPods and the Apple Watch are perfect for exercise.
- That AirPods will become iconic, in much the same way the original, corded EarPods became iconic. As The New Yorker puts it, “You’ll know a movie is set in the aughts because someone walks through a scene with cords dangling from his ears, and eventually they will look as archaic as bowler hats or bell-bottoms.”