It’s been more than a year since Apple released the AirPods, but it’s only now that other companies are really starting to match them when it comes to the style and shape of wireless earbuds. The latest are from Mobvoi, which is starting an Indiegogo campaign to sell the TicPods Free, a pair of wireless earbuds that look like a slightly thicker, more angular version of the AirPods. Plus, they come in colors other than white.
The TicPods offer the same feature set of the AirPods: they come with a charging case, they pause the music when removed from your ears, you can tap on them to control playback, they have built-in mics to take calls, and you can access a smart assistant — Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Siri — with a touch.
There are some advantages here over the AirPods, but they aren’t necessarily huge. The TicPods have a degree of water and sweat resistance; they’re designed to support Android (AirPods work on Android too, but some features aren’t available); and you can get them in blue or red, in addition to solid white. Another nice feature is their earpiece comes with two sizes of silicone tips, which should help them stick better into your ear and even form a seal.
The question this announcement can’t answer is whether they’ll match the AirPods’ real key feature: reliability. Apple’s greatest strength has simply been that the AirPods work well no matter what, while other companies have struggled to balance wireless connectivity with battery life and size and shape.
Given that big unknown, you may not want to back the TicPods right away. Some of the first backers on Indiegogo will be able to get them for $59, but Mobvoi intends to sell them for $129 at retail. That’s only $30 less than the AirPods — which isn’t much of a discount when you don’t know what you’re getting. The first units are supposed to ship to backers in July. Meanwhile, Apple appears to be readying a second generation of AirPods for later this year.
Mobvoi isn’t the only company working toward look-alike AirPods either. Huawei recently announced a very similar pair of wireless earbuds — but likewise, we still don’t know how they’ll actually perform. Mobvoi has also released a number of Android Wear and Google Assistant devices; Google reportedly invested in the company back in 2015.