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Sounds In The Sofa: Learning To Love My AirPods

Many years ago, my family and I went to the pet store to do a little shopping for my guide dog. My twelve year old son and my wife wandered off into some other part of the store while Fantom, my Golden Retriever guide, and I went on our own little adventure.

As Fantom and I explored the toy aisle, I felt a hand brush against mine and it made me smile. I reached out, took the proffered hand, and kept walking. One of the great joys of being a blind father is that it remains socially acceptable for a son in middle school to still hold hands with his dad.

The two of us walked for a bit and then he slowed to a stop. Still holding my hand, he turned to me and said in an unfamiliar Texas drawl, “Howdy stranger. Why are ya holding my hand?”

I quickly let go. The fellow leaned in close, hot breath in my ear, and whispered, “My favorite animal is a chicken.”

I do not like surprises. Surprises and change make me uncomfortable. Boring is beautiful. I like my coffee without whipped cream or mocha drizzle. I have been quite pleased living in the same house for twenty-two years. I do not embrace change, or strangers in pet stores.

I am happiest with familiarity. I get very attached to my personal technology. Since the 1960s, I have had wired headphones that directly tethered me to my electronics. Initially, my headphones were the size and weight of two large turtles clamped against the sides of my head. Over the years, my headphones shrunk. Heavy metal shells morphed to lighter plastic cups and then to foam cushions. Finally, with the introduction of the original EarPods, I found a really pleasant way to stay connected.

Now, Apple suddenly expects me to think different. Ugh. They want me to cut the cord. Their new AirPods frighten me. They are so small and ready to fall. Gravity is my enemy. My stuff always lands where it is least convenient, accessible, or clean. Even when found, it can be a loss. I would never put something back into my ears that has gone swimming in a toilet. I’m funny that way.

Still, these newfangled AirPods are intriguing. I have often found the wires on my old EarPods to be a pain. Occasionally, while relaxing with some good music, I have forgotten that I laid my iPhone on a table and then felt it yanked off the edge when I stood up. My EarPod wires have also gotten tangled up on my violin and wrapped around my dog’s paws. Most important, I’m told I look really geeky with wires dangling from my head. That is hard news for an old man.

I took a chance. I ordered a pair of AirPods and endured the six week shipping delay. Thankfully, my AirPods arrived a few days early. They looked so tiny. What was I thinking? I have trouble finding my own slippers. The AirPods were so light and comfy in my ears that I immediately forgot that they were even there. Within minutes of the unboxing, I carelessly reached up, dislodging the right AirPod, flinging it into the void. My guts ran cold. If I moved, I might hear a little crunch under my shoe. If I did not, my dog might think I was tossing kibble on the floor. Fortunately, I finally recovered the fugitive AirPod. And, so far, I have found them every time gravity has played me dirty.

I have been impressed with my purchase. Pairing is delightfully simple. The audio quality from my AirPods is really quite good, much better than from my old EarPods. Although the new AirPods have occasionally dropped the wireless connection to my iPhone, I have found the communications quick and easy to reestablish. Battery life is adequate, about five hours per AirPod. The AirPods alert me with a distinctive audible warning when they are down to a ten percent reserve. Charging is quick — just drop them back into their case and give them fifteen minutes for another three hours of juice. More time, more charge. In the last few weeks, they have only gotten out of synch with each other twice, creating an echo chamber that sounded a bit hallucinogenic until I took the AirPods out and then put them back in. Simple and intuitive. Their BlueTooth range is impressive. I can leave my phone in the living room when I go out on the front porch and still listen to a book. In a very short time, I have gotten quite used to them.

Even so, paranoia runs deep in my psyche and I hate the thought of somehow losing one or both of my AirPods. A few days after they had arrived, I performed a sanity check by purchasing an additional wireless product. I walked into the local Apple Store and picked up their BeatsX wireless headphones. Much of the connectivity technology found in the AirPods is also in the BeatsX. However, the BeatsX is a very different animal. The ear pieces are the type you push into the ear canal, rather than hanging from the outer ear. The two ear pieces and associated hardware are connected by a slim and flexible cable that goes around your neck. BeatsX has good battery life, very good audio reproduction, and an up-down-click switch like the one wired to the original EarPods.

The BeatsX are great for plane travel as they loop around your neck and are much less likely to be jostled out in a terminal or dropped on an aircraft. The BeatsX will also dampen the roar of jet engines. Unfortunately, the BeatsX tendency to block much of the ambient noise is a significant drawback for me. I would not want to walk my neighborhood with them in place for fear of not hearing an approaching car. They also make it hard to hear your spouse, seldom a good thing. Even if I did not mind living in a muffled world, I would still find the BeatsX a less than perfect choice. With the soft nylon tips stuffed into my ear, they cause my ear canal to get rather warm after prolonged use. I swear my ear wax begins to melt.

Like gravity, I have a very strong attraction to my Apple AirPods. I am most comfortable with them when working in my office, relaxing in the house, or riding in a car. That is most of my day. Even so, I still keep a set of my trusty old EarPods handy for times when walking outdoors or when lying in bed. My BeatsX are nice, and I’m glad I bought them, but I will probably use them more when I travel by plane or train, when I am in a crowded venue or when I really want to block out the world.

If the cost was lower and I could glue them to my head, I would use AirPods everywhere and all the time. I really do love my AirPods. I’ve even ordered a second pair — just in case.

Although I generally hate surprises, I have been pleasantly surprised by the AirPods. Not all surprises are bad — even at that pet store so many years ago. As I stood there, next to the dog toys, wondering what the heck had just transpired, I heard the fellow who favored chickens begin to laugh. An innocent laugh. That laugh was wonderfully familiar. It was my son, surprised that he had surprised me. Some surprises I love.

***

G. Morgan Watkins spent thirty years at the University of Texas at Austin, most of it in information technology leadership. He also enjoyed thirteen years on the Board of Directors at Guide Dogs for the Blind. After retiring from the University, Morgan served as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Acting President and CEO.

Morgan is now happily retired again, and relaxing after a wonderful six month adventure that culminated in a spectacular wedding in India. Morgan has created 16 other blogs for AppleVis, including “Blind Santa: Audible Books from me to me”, “No News is Good News: Breaking my iPhone news addiction” and “Sleeping With The Stars: Old Time Radio and my iPhone”. Morgan always enjoys your comments and feedback.

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