Were Airpods Built To Make Apple Watch Obsolete?

According to Forbes, Apple is the world’s most valuable brand for the ninth straight time. 

After the success of the iPhone, MacBook, and Apple Watch, the company could have launched any hardware. They could have capitalized on their powerful branding and designed a television, maybe even a refrigerator.

But one of the products the company launched was Airpods (in 2016).

State of Airpods Today

In October 2019, the company announced a major upgrade to the Airpods after 4 long years. Airpods Pro is exactly what my buddy wanted – they no more fall from his ears. The new earphones feature an active noise cancelling technology, new in-ear design, improved water resistance and a $249 price tag. They come with the same convenience and seamless connectivity.

Apple sold $6 billion worth of Airpods in 2019 and is projected to sell over $15 billion this year. 

“If a private company was performing the way Apple’s AirPods are in terms of rapid sales growth in units and revenues with strong margins, it could be valued at $175 billion next year, making it the 32nd largest company in the U.S.” – Daniel Dilger, Apple Insider

Airpods is crushing the competition – it now accounts for almost 60% of the global wireless earbuds market. 

So was launching Airpods a plan or just a fluke? How does Apple choose what category to enter? Is it trying to build everything or is there a pattern to it?

To answer this question, let’s understand The Grand Unified Theory of Apple Products (article written by Neil Cybart).

In an interview with Steven Levy, Phil Schiller – VP of Worldwide Marketing at Apple – discussed a new way of thinking about the Apple product line. 

Apple Watch: “The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often.” 

iPhone: “The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that.”

iPad: “The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook. Like, Why do I need a notebook? I can add a keyboard! I can do all these things!”

MacBook: “The job of the notebook is to make it so you never need a desktop, right? It’s been doing this for a decade. So that leaves the poor desktop at the end of the line, What’s its job?…”

iMac: “It’s job is to challenge what we think a computer can do and do things that no computer has ever done before, be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because of its capabilities. Because if all it’s doing is competing with the notebook and being thinner and lighter, then it doesn’t need to be.”

Each device has the goal of moving in the direction of smaller, less confusing technology by making it’s bulkier, confusing neighbour obsolete. This strategy guides product decisions at Apple today.

So was Airpods’ job to make Apple Watch obsolete?

Not exactly.

Yes, you can play-pause songs by squeezing and tapping your AirPods – it does minimize the use of Watch. But I believe, AirPods is more like the transition product between the Watch and Apple’s upcoming augmented reality glasses.

After putting computing on your wrist, Apple wants to put computing right where you consume content – your eyes. It’s job will be to do more and more things right in front of your eyes so that you don’t need to look down at your wrist as often.

Apple is working on AR smart glasses that could come out anytime in the next few years. “The glasses are said to feature a dedicated display, built-in processor, and a reality operating system. Input will be via touch panels, voice activation, and head gestures, and it’s said to support applications ranging from mapping to texting.” – MacRumors

Apple is pushing the limits for AirPods to be as close to AR glasses in functionality as possible. The new H1 chip in Airpods Pro handles the fast pairing with Apple devices, uses a newer version of Bluetooth, adds “Hey Siri” support, and better manages power for increased talk time.

The company never shared the product vision for AR glasses but they definitely would wanna make the transition from Airpods to AR glasses a natural progression for their users. 

The moment when AirPods reaches it’s highest potential, users will see a gap between where the AirPods stands and what AR glasses can accomplish – this is when they will make the switch. 

With this strategy, Apple will not only convince AirPods’ owners into buying the new smart glasses but also disrupt itself before any of its competitor does.

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