When is Wall Street Journal they posted their post the other day stating that the wired EarPods are in style again, I wasn’t even remotely surprised. In fact, I always thought it was inevitable that when AirPods were fully democratized, the younger generations would consider them uncool. We’ve seen this happen over and over again with other technologies, and the most popular reference is Facebook and its now much older demographics. So, yes, wired headphones are on trend again. But what does this mean for industry and culture as a whole?
I’ve seen a lot of people regret the return of wired headphones and that’s completely understandable. AirPods and other wireless headphones offer a level of convenience and comfort that no wired headset can match. They have basically become invisible and have therefore permeated our culture. Wherever you go, you can see people carrying AirPods. Some listen to music, some listen to the latest podcasts, and others just wear them to avoid talking to people. They are part of our modern life, the way the original iPod headphones became 20 years ago.
Five years after the presentation of AirPods headphones at the Apple event in September 2016, they are ubiquitous. AirPods are frankly inevitable, at least in the United States. In 2020, with the introduction of the iPhone 12, Apple stopped including EarPods in every box. The product that was once synonymous with the iPhone and in hundreds of millions of homes around the world, has essentially disappeared… temporarily.
Fast mass adoption of AirPods handsets
When AirPods took over, people really wanted them. In fact, it was virtually impossible to get their hands on them months after their official launch. They started as a symbol for happy early adopters, but they quickly became an important fashion item and help. Anyone who has taken over AirPods has more than likely stopped using their wired EarPods. They have been lying in drawers in millions of homes for almost half a decade. Now that AirPods are the dominant headset in the industry and when most people choose, the creators of the Gene Z trends thought they were definitely cool. Once something becomes mainstream, some people tend to look for another new thing to replace it. But occasionally they come back and retro technology becomes prominent again. Technology should rarely be described as cyclical, but there are times when something old comes back.
Wired headphones are a completely different kind of fashion statement than they were 5 years ago. They are now a clear point of rebellion against the modern wireless world. I’m not entirely sure what they say about the person, but they absolutely say something. Mashable quotes Shelby Hull, an Instagramer who runs an account called @wireditgirls which is dedicated to the fashion of wired headphones. Hull says, “Wired is an attitude, it’s the way you handle and move the world.” It doesn’t really mean anything to me. But I’m also not the target audience here. I love new technologies, I am essentially an early adopter. I like to recall “simpler times” and go on nostalgic journeys for old technology, but I will never go back to full-time wired headphones.
Trend or exchange rate correction?
At the end of the day, the wired headphones return due to the predictably rebellious generation z. However, these trends do not last, which is why they are called trends. They’re a snapshot in time, so wait a few months and the next generation of AirPods Pro could be in the ears of any cool person again. Or maybe things are just stabilizing. Maybe it’s a course correction and we see a more even demarcation between wireless and wired. It’s certainly possible that the cool factor that made AirPods a multi-billion dollar business as they are today. They are now just another product, not a cool novelty. You can apply the same argument about the stagnant design of the phone to cordless headphones. They are now a mature category. But wire products will never disappear, just because of their reliability. Even if a wireless connection is infinitely more practical in many ways, EarPods have advantages. These advantages include: no need to charge them, significantly cheaper price and volume control.
Apple currently sells two wired headphone options. The original 2012 EarPods with a 3.5mm headphone jack for use with Macs and older iOS devices, as well as the 2016 EarPods with a digital lightning connector for use on devices without a headphone jack. If this trend continues, can Apple consider refreshing its wired headphones? Probably not. AirPods are such a big part of Apple’s wearable business and have so many options for things like healthcare and translation technical accessories. So while gene z enjoys their boring intricate chords, the rest of us will continue to enjoy our flawless, invisible and beautiful wireless earphones.
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