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 its unfamiliar design (including CNN asking "Would people actually wear these?" in 2016), its popularity grew rapidly over the years and was voted the most popular "hearable" brand of 2019.
AirPods were announced on September 7, 2016 at an Apple Special Event alongside the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2. Apple originally planned to release them in late October, but delayed the release date. On December 13, 2016, Apple began taking orders online. They were available at Apple Stores, Apple Authorized Resellers, and select carriers on December 20.
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. 15.9 million units were sold in the first half of 2019. Analysts estimate AirPods make up 60% of the global wireless headphone market. An estimated 5-7% of Apple's revenue from AirPods comes from replacement earbuds and cases.
AirPods contain upgradeable firmware. Its original firmware was 3.3.1. In February 2017, Apple released 3.5.1, 3.7.2 in May 2017, and then 6.3.2 on March 26, 2019. In July 2019, 6.7.8 was released and 6.8.8 followed in September 2019. The latest firmware is 1A691 (G2). 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 $40 bundled with the Wireless Charging Case, which can be used with Qi chargers. The Wireless Charging Case can be purchased separately for $79 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.
Apple announced 2nd generation AirPods on March 20, 2019. They include an H1 processor which supports hands-free "Hey Siri", Bluetooth 5 connectivity, and Apple claims 50% more talk time and faster device connection times. “Announce Messages with Siri” was added in iOS 13.2, which allows Siri to dictate and reply to text messages.
They were discontinued on March 20, 2019 after the second generation was released.