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The AirPods delay perfectly illustrates Apple’s earbuds problem

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer
Apple’s AirPods are delayed, with no make up date announced. Source: Getty

From the moment Apple (AAPL) revealed its AirPods to the world last month, the company’s wireless earbud failed almost every sniff test. It has a giant $159 price tag. It needs a 15-minute rest every five hours to charge. Its sound is almost certainly worse than if the same earbuds used a wired connection. They look like ugly earrings. If one falls out, it doesn’t just dangle—it gets lost forever. You can’t use a splitter. But most of all, it’s a step away from elegant simplicity of something that just plain works.

And now, according to TechCrunch, the new AirPods are delayed.

When I was a kid, a pair of headphones I had stopped working, and my mom sent me to my grandfather down the road. He peeled back the rubber sleeve between the cord and tip, pointed to a broken solder joint, and bridged the gap with a piece of metal to show me the problem. Then we went downstairs and inside a minute he had fixed the headphones with his soldering iron, while he explained the simple mechanics of a speaker and an analog electrical signal, carrying so much information with so little.

Past the sentimentality, it speaks volumes that all the billions of headphones out there that can be understood and repaired by a little kid are facing assault—and potential extinction—by a earbuds so complicated that they require enough extra tinkering from engineers to delay a release date. As of October 27, the company has not set a new date.

Even before the delay—which carried no details besides the need for more time—the AirPods were doomed to an inauspicious start by their very existence. In the past, Apple has showed an ability to see deep into the future, past the short-termist critics, to what customers don’t even know they want. They play some chess.

But the iPhone 7 isn’t a paper-thin future phone, too slight to handle a beefy headphone tip. It’s a non-groundbreaking transitional phone hardly different from 2014’s 6S. Taking it off this early without meaningful innovation was user-hostile and not necessary for waterproofness.

At the end of the day, the AirPods fail a tech-version of Occam’s razor: Given two equal scenarios, discard the more complex one. You’d never have a delay with something as simple, functional and well-thought out with a well-made headphone.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumerism, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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