Three years ago my mum went to South Africa. She was doing the 20-something hour flight alone and figured this was the time to see what the whole “listening to music on your phone” fad was about.
I put songs on her iPhone and dug out some earphones. She was immediately struck by the euphoria of mobile music. She spent the rest of that Sunday buzzing about, doing miscellaneous housework as an excuse to explore this new and alluring technology.
She was astonished by the iPod experience — 16 years after the first iPod came out. It tickled me pink. But now, three years later, it’s happened to me.
The New AirPods, or AirPods 2 as everyone other than Apple calls them, are my favorite new gadget of 2019 so far. I love the AirPods like children I don’t have. Wireless, high-fidelity children. In fact, I’d argue they’re better than human children in every way except one: They’re easier to lose. And trust me, at $159 (£159, AU$249) a pop, losing them hurts.
I know, wireless earphones aren’t new and the AirPods 2 are only slightly better than the originals. The first generation of AirPods passed me by for two reasons. First, in-ear headphones almost never fit in my ear. Second, c’mon. They’re ridiculous.
I vividly remember the first time I saw someone wearing them in the wild. I was outraged by how casually he was going about his business. Fine, put those tiny hairdryers on — but don’t walk around here like you haven’t got tiny hairdryers hanging out your ears. You’re not wearing them. They’re wearing you.
Now AirPods are commonplace. It’s chaos. I often think I’m being accosted by a stranger on the street or there’s a crazy man in my 10 p.m. bus, but no, it’s just someone talking loudly into their AirPods.
All this is to say AirPods were bewildering. But then I actually used them. The sound quality is drastically better than I expected, and they actually fit in my ears. I was converted immediately. Yep, they’re absolutely preposterous, but that’s why using them is fun.
The AirPods are the selfie sticks of earphones. That’s the highest compliment I can bestow. It’s a strange but satisfying juxtaposition: They look silly on other people, but the intuitive design makes it impossible to hate if you’re the one using them.
The charging case is a lustrous little pod that opens smoothly to reveal two gleaming AirPods. Charging them is easy as resting them in their case like pearls in a clam. They connect easily to iOS and Android devices. It’s got that “it just works” quality that the best Apple products are known for. When I first opened up the case I shook my head with a great deal of resentment.
Apple, you smug bastard. You got me again. You made these idiot things cool. I was in love.
My colleague David Carnoy gave the AirPods 2 an 8.3 out of 10, calling them an incremental upgrade to an excellent set of headphones. I’m not one of CNET’s resident audio experts and can’t compare the AirPods to their competitors. I could have just as easily fallen for Jabra’s Elite Sport 65t’s or Sennheiser’s wireless Momentum earphones were I to come across them first. But like all good love stories, it was just the right time and place.
AirPods 2nd-generation: Not really 2.0, but definitely…
I felt a childish delight when using the AirPods. I’m used to wearing over-ear headphones; it was so gratifying to get quality sound while still feeling the air breeze by my ears. When I’d leave my desk to get a midday coffee I felt excited to be able to use my AirPods. I found myself listening to podcasts with the AirPods as I cooked and cleaned at home.
Sooner or later we all become our parents.
There was one niggling reservation. Handling AirPods comes with a tangible swirl of anxiety. If I wasn’t using them I was patting my pockets every few seconds to verify they were still on my person. When I was walking around the city I had a rankling fear they’d fly out at the most inconvenient time. “It’ll be fine,” I thought. “You’re just being paranoid.”
I wasn’t being paranoid. Last Friday, a mere three days into life with my sweet Pod children, disaster struck. I had to run for my bus and didn’t think to take the AirPods out of my ears to do so. What followed were the most emotional moments of my life, at least since Ygritte died in Jon Snow’s arms.
Here was my exact train of thought as I ran for the bus: “Oh good, I’m going to make it. Oh cool, I guess the AirPods fit into my ears well enough to run with them. Oh no, both AirPods just fell out. Oh shit, one of them fell into that roadside drain.”
It was a particularly cinematic drop. It was like a Looney Tunes drop, where the Pod bounced in two high arches, reached its peak right above the grate then nosedived through a perfect-sized hole. It was like The Matrix, except instead of bullets coming at Neo it was Neo trying to catch an AirPod shooting away from him.
Not only did I miss the bus, I missed the next bus after as I knelt by the drain and grieved for my Pod. Is there anything I can do to save it? I felt hopeless. Goodnight, sweet prince.
This was a prevailing criticism of the AirPods when they were announced in 2016. “I just lost my AirPods and I don’t even own them yet,” went one of several viral tweets. I’m clumsy, which makes for an ominous combo. But after a few days of bliss, I thought maybe I could overcome the odds.
I could not.
I was heartbroken and, rudely, got no support. I had to explain my tardiness to my colleagues, they laughed. I told my friends. They laughed. No one was surprised. I told my cousin. He blamed me. They all blamed me.
I decided it couldn’t end like this. There will be a day when I lose my AirPods for good, but not this day. The drain it fell down wasn’t too deep. I figured I could potentially unscrew the grate, reach down there and reunite with my plastic progeny. (Except I can’t use power tools of any kind, so enlisted a reluctant friend to help.)
There was a complication though. It was scheduled to rain at 9 p.m., just three hours after I finish work. Rain would sweep the AirPod down into the sewer, so I couldn’t dillydally. Not even I could love a sewer child. I never watched 24, but I imagine this is what that show was.
The plan didn’t work. I brought a drill and a couple of different-sized drill heads but nada. It turns out the Sydney government does a decent job at reinforcing grates. But I also brought a backup plan. My cousin jokingly suggested using a coat hanger and gum. It was a crazy suggestion. Crazy smart.
Just call me Dan VanGuyver.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I am willing to risk an ear infection by using a gummed-up, drainpipe AirPod. Nothing a damp paper towel can’t fix. I was reunited with my AirPod after nearly 12 hours apart. Best Friday night of my life.
AirPods are still my favorite new gadget 2019 has brought us so far. I just know now to live every day with them like it could be our last together.
Editors’ note: Five days after retrieving the AirPods from a drain using a coat hanger and used chewing gum, Daniel Van Boom accidentally left his AirPods in a taxi cab. He hasn’t been seen since.
Originally published at 5 a.m. PT.