Last week, Apple made some significant noise in the market with the announcement of its new AirPods Pro, the successor to its hot-selling standard AirPods. Apple’s announcement of the new AirPods coincided with the long-awaited launch of its Apple TV+ streaming service, which was unveiled with some major Hollywood firepower earlier in the year. Here are some quick thoughts on both of these launches.
AirPods Pro sets the bar for earbud-style headphones
Even before I opened the box, my expectations were quite high for the AirPods Pro given their elevated price tag of $249 ($50 more than the standard second generation AirPods). For my go-to headphones, I typically go for the traditional over-the-ear design (like the superb new Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700). However, the original Airpods won me over with their compact form factor and overall convenience—ideally suited for short walks, runs, or other exercise-related activities. Still, since active noise cancellation is such an important feature for me, the original AirPods always played second fiddle to the Carnegie Hall-like sound quality of my trusty Bose headphones.
Having now used the new AirPods Pro for the past several days, I’m glad to report that it’s highly likely they will become my day-in and day-out headphone solution. First of all, I’m one of those folks who could only use the original or second-generation AirPods for an hour at a time before feeling like they might fall out of my ears—especially if I am vigorously exercising or dashing across a street. The AirPods Pro now comes with sweat-proof small, medium and large ear tips, which effectively solves that problem. I found removing and reapplying the ear tips to be effortless. My guess is that most consumers who are not crazy about earbuds will find the new design to be quite appealing. Kudos to Apple for pricing replacement tips for just $4 (for a pair of three); a surprisingly un-Apple-like move, given the company’s tendency to apply premium pricing to just about any accessory.
The real closer for me, though, is the improved sound quality of the new AirPods Pro. The first thing I noticed is that the sound quality of the AirPods Pro is more vibrant with more bass—presumably due to a combination of the device's noise-isolating design and finely tuned drivers. Whereas the standard AirPods have reasonably good sound, they don’t perform particularly well in outside or noisy environments. Overall, the active noise cancellation of the AirPods Pro is quite effective (I would say nearly on par with the Bose 700s), quite an accomplishment for the earbuds form factor.
Also, consumers who like using earbuds to make calls will be delighted with the AirPods Pro. The new AirPods have three microphones on each bud (including one that is beamforming to pick up your voice). Additionally, they feature a vent system that is designed to reduce the pressure that tends to build up in your ear, an approach that should mitigate wind noise as well. I found the microphone quality so good that I used them for a Skype-based podcast that I participated in, and the resulting audio quality was impressive.
The AirPods Pro has all the delightful features that consumers have come to expect from Apple: effortless pairing, a charging case (with wireless charging support) and the ability to find lost earbuds using the "Find My AirPods” feature in iOS 13. The only issue I can reasonably bring some attention to is battery life: like all earbuds that have a very compact form factor, the AirPods Pro has a rated battery life of 4.5 hours (with noise cancellation turned on). That's sufficient for many consumers, as a fully charged case can extend the battery life for a full 24 hours (even a 15-minute charge will get 3 hours of power). Still, for long-distance flights, you can't beat the battery life of over-the-hear headphones, which have larger batteries that can last as long as 20 hours on a single charge.
The bottom line is that Apple has a real winner with the new AirPods Pro. Even with its premium price of $249, It will undoubtedly be one of the hottest gifts this holiday season. I suspect they may even sell out like the original AirPods from a couple of years ago. Get a pair while you can.
For All Mankind: the signature streaming show on Apple TV+
While I’m not a professional entertainment critic, I would be remiss if I didn’t provide any commentary on For All Mankind, one of several new multi-episode series that Apple developed for its new Apple TV+ streaming service. I haven't had time to watch any of the other series, but if they're anything remotely like For All Mankind, Apple will need a special room at its new headquarters in Sunnyvale to store its Emmy Awards.
Painstakingly and meticulously produced with a fine screenplay by famed sci-fi writer Ronald D. Moore, For All Mankind postulates what might have happened if the Russians had beaten the United States to the moon in 1969. The series is well-conceived and executed. Alternative history programs like For All Mankindare not new—Amazon’s Man In The High Castle premiered in 2015 and is very good, if not a bit over-the-top. For All Mankind strikes just the right balance with a very plausible "what if" scenario. The show is sprinkled with interesting events that could have changed the course of history, and not just with the space program. My personal favorite: Ted Kennedy cancels his fateful trip to Chappaquiddick to attend the Apollo 11 launch after the Russians arrived first on the moon (with the implication that he could run and presumably beat Richard Nixon in 1972).
With outstanding special effects and exceptional acting by its entire ensemble cast, For All Mankind easily justifies the $4.99 monthly pricing for the entire Apple TV+ library of programs. While it’s the only Apple-developed program I’ve watched thus far, the critical buzz on several of the other programs (such as Morning Show and Dickinson) is strong. For All Mankind is a show that the whole family can enjoy and learn from, and it's a great sign of what's to come with other programs developed under the Apple moniker. I can't wait to see the remaining seven episodes, one of which will premiere every Friday for the next 45 days.
Apple continues to be on a roll
Apple has a lot to be proud of as 2019 comes to an end. It recently announced astonishingly strong financial results, and its pivot to services and wearable devices has been incredibly well-executed in spite of the slowdown in iPhone sales. With companies (including its most fierce rivals, Samsung and Google) attempting to emulate its business model, especially in the video streaming services and wearables category, Apple shows absolutely no signs of taking its foot off the gas pedal. It will be incredibly exciting to watch Apple fine-tune its strategy as it enters 2020. While services and wearables will continue to be primary focuses for the company, the big question is what new product categories it might enter. Apple plays it very close to the vest when it comes to discussing new product categories. Still, I suspect 2020 will be the year when it expands its offerings in the wearables space. Additionally, I expect it to introduce new AI and VR functionality to its iPhone portfolio, which should keep the Apple ecosystem at the bleeding edge. Good things are ahead for the company—it's no time to look in the rearview mirror.