Apple could, and probably should bundle wireless earbuds with the next iPhone

August 10th, 2016

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I’ve been desperately searching for a pair of wireless earbuds to wear while working out; a search that’s lasted two years and spanned a dozen or so products. Sound quality isn’t super important to me because these are for the gym, not for critical listening at home. I want bass, and plenty of it, so that my hard-driving playlists can drown out the treadmill motors and ambient grunts that ride atop a soundtrack of inoffensive bubble-gum pop played over my gym’s loudspeakers. Fit is critical, however, and impossible to determine based upon a spec sheet, or the recommendation of any reviewer. That’s meant a lot of trial and error as I exchange one failed experiment for another.

Headphone makers have invented a dizzying array of methods to keep their buds lodged in our ears. These range from flanges, to memory foam, to ear hooks, to silica gel buds each offered in a variety of shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, the only way to know what works best for your particular anatomy is to try them all. Simply stated, if your wireless earbuds aren’t comfortable, you won’t wear them. Period. And if they don’t maintain a snug fit while training then you’ll find yourself constantly adjusting them to maintain the quality of sound, especially the bass which falls off quickly as earbuds dislodge. My PowerBeats 2 Wireless earbuds require constant adjustment while at the gym and it’s maddening.

By chance I recently discovered the Meizu EP-51 earbuds, which turned out to be the wireless headphones I’ve longed for! They’re even "good enough" for Apple, which, I just realized, could be construed as a compliment or insult. Here, let me explain.

The disappearing headphone jack is one of the biggest topics of discussion in tech this year. Although it’s only rumored for the next iPhone, its removal has been so thoroughly corroborated by people familiar with these things that it’s time to consider what it means going forward. Mark Gurman, who’s been the go-to source for Apple rumors for a few years now, said on Monday that "the new iPhones will remove the headphone jack in favor of connectivity via Bluetooth and the charging port." Great, so that raises the question of what Apple will include in the box when it ships its new iPhones in a few months.

Fortunately, John Gruber’s already laid out the likely options over at Daring Fireball:

  1. Wireless earbuds
  2. Wireless earbuds and a Lightning adapter
  3. Lightning earbuds
  4. Lightning earbuds and a Lightning adapter
  5. The existing 3.5mm earbuds and a Lightning adapter

"I’d prefer ‘good enough’ wireless earbuds included with the iPhone," says Gruber, "and ‘amazing’ headphones as the upsell product."

Same, but that doesn’t mean it’s economically viable for Apple to do it. When I first read Gruber’s take a few weeks ago I thought bundling an acceptable set of wireless earbuds would be too expensive. After all, the most popular models recommended by experts start at around $80, and can easily cost more than $200. But that was before I received the Meizu EP-51 Bluetooth earbuds for testing.

Apple currently bundles its EarPods with all new iPhone purchases making them the baseline by which we must measure "good enough" — an admittedly low bar that’s nevertheless deemed acceptable by millions of iPhone owners. These same earbuds can be purchased separately for $29 on the Apple store.

Meizu EP51 Meizu

Meizu’s EP-51 earbuds aren’t widely available in the West, but a few niche online retailers sell them for $27.99 — a buck less than Apple’s wired earbuds. The price is incredibly cheap for what you get: good sound with solid bass that far exceeds Apple’s EarPods, a decent three-button remote that’s easy to navigate blindly by touch, a reasonable 6-hour battery, and a snug, comfortable fit (for my ears, anyway). The machined aluminum looks great (in my opinion) set against the red and black accents of the cable and mic, they’re waterproof and lightweight, and the buds attach magnetically around your neck when not in use. And because of the fit and better bass I get with the Meizu buds, I prefer them to the $100 JLab Epic2 Bluetooth wireless fitness buds selected by both The Verge and The Wirecutter as the best wireless buds for most fitness enthusiasts (the Epic2 is my second favorite). Hell, I even prefer the Meizu buds to the $250 B&O H5 wireless earbuds I recently received for testing, mainly because I can’t get the H5 buds to stay in my ears even while walking.

Had my colleague Vlad Savov not sent me the Meizu EP-51 earbuds on a whim, I never would have found my perfect wireless earbuds. Moreover, I wouldn't have realized that Apple could indeed manufacture a decent pair of wireless earbuds cheaply enough to bundle with its next iPhones. Apple could even resist the "good enough" trap and surprise and delight new iPhone buyers if profit margins allow. That would still leave plenty of room for a premium upsell, to, oh, I don’t know, a pair of $299 truly wireless Apple earbuds that may or may not include a heart monitor, and an entire lineup of Beats-branded wireless cans that can also be listened to while tethered over a Lightning cable.

So yeah, it’s clear that Apple could bundle cheap wireless earbuds with its new iPhones after it ditches the headphone jack. And given the foreseeable options available, I think it should.

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