On announcement day, AirPods were compared to Apple's previously existing EarPods (2012–present), with The Verge noting "They look... just like the old EarPods, with the wires cut off." Initially mocked by many for their unfamiliar design (including CNN asking "Would people actually wear these?" in 2016), their popularity grew rapidly over the years and they were voted the most popular "hearable" brand of 2019.
AirPods are wireless Bluetooth earbuds designed by Apple. They were first released on September 7, 2016, with a 2nd generation released in March 2019. They are Apple's entry-level wireless headphones, sold alongside the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. Within two years, they became Apple's most popular accessory, notable for their critical success and viral sensationalism.
Apple announced the 1st generation AirPods on September 7, 2016 at an Apple Special Event alongside the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2. Apple originally planned to release the AirPods in late October, but delayed the release date. On December 13, 2016, Apple began taking online orders for AirPods. They were available at Apple Stores, Apple Authorized Resellers, and select carriers on December 20, 2016.
Analysts estimate Apple sold between 14 million and 16 million AirPods in 2017. In 2018, AirPods were Apple's most popular accessory product, with 35 million units sold. 60 million units were sold in 2019. Analysts estimate AirPods make up 60% of the global wireless headphone market and that Apple’s entire Wearables products (Apple Watch, AirPods, and AirPods Pro) “is now bigger than 60% of the companies in the Fortune 500”. An estimated 5-7% of Apple's revenue from AirPods comes from replacement earbuds and cases.
AirPods contain upgradeable firmware. Its original firmware was version 3.3.1. In February 2017, Apple released version 3.5.1, 3.7.2 in May 2017, and then 6.3.2 on March 26, 2019. In July 2019, version 6.7.8 was released and 6.8.8 followed in September 2019. In June 2020, firmware 2D15 was released (G2). The latest firmware is 3A283 (G2 and Pro). AirPods automatically sync through Apple's iCloud service, allowing users to switch audio sources to other supported devices connected by the same Apple ID.
2nd generation AirPods can be purchased with the same charging case as the 1st generation, or for an additional price bundled with the Wireless Charging Case, which can be used with Qi chargers. The Wireless Charging Case can be purchased separately and is compatible with 1st generation AirPods. It moves the charging indicator LED to the exterior of the case. The Wireless Charging Case was initially announced in September 2017 alongside the AirPower charging mat, but was delayed by AirPower's protracted development and eventual cancellation.
It is estimated that sales including the 2nd generation of AirPods and AirPods Pro in 2019 would be $12 billion. Apple does not report AirPods sales separately from its quarterly report. However, assuming the $12 billion forecast is correct by investors, AirPods' $12 billion profit is higher than Adobe's fiscal year 2019 (December 2018 to November 2019). AirPods' profits are higher than Spotify, Twitter, Snap and Shopify combined. Of course, companies such as Adobe and Spotify are software companies, so it is difficult to compare them simply.
Apple announced the 2nd generation AirPods on March 20, 2019. They are the same design as the first generation, but have updated features. They include an H1 processor which supports hands-free "Hey Siri", Bluetooth 5 connectivity. Apple also claims 50% more talk time and faster device connection times. The "Announce Messages with Siri” feature was added in iOS 13.2, which allows the user to dictate text messages to Siri.
On March 20, 2019, Apple released the 2nd generation AirPods, which feature the H1 chip, longer talk time, and hands-free "Hey Siri" support. An optional wireless charging case which costs extra was added in the offerings.
Production of the 1st generation AirPods was discontinued on March 20, 2019, after the 2nd generation was released.