AirPods are not the finished article yet, but they are still Apple’s gadget of 2016

The device was only released in the UAE last week after a series of delays and retail at a pricey Dh699.

Apple originally unveiled the AirPods – two free floating wireless earpieces – in September alongside the iPhone 7. Beck Diefenbach / Reuters
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Apple’s AirPods are late to market, a bit on the pricey side, lacking in key functionality, and have a style that can best be described as “interesting.”

But they’re still my favourite Apple gadget of the year.

If you need reminding, Apple originally unveiled the AirPods – two free floating wireless earpieces – in September alongside the iPhone 7. After a series of delays, they finally hit UAE stores last week.

The AirPods, which come in a small charging case resembling a pack of dental floss, are the company’s first own-brand wireless headphones, not counting several options launched by subsidiary Beats.

The concept of free floating earpieces, connected to an audio source via Bluetooth, has been around for a while, with Samsung’s Gear Icon X and Sol Republic’s Amps Air just two recent examples.

Apple have really taken the concept forward with the AirPods though, thanks to some key innovations and Apple’s traditional strength of simple yet inimitable design prowess.

First up, pairing the AirPods with one’s iPhone or iPad is almost laughably simple; open the lid of their case, click “Connect” on the dialogue box on your phone, and you’re done, in three seconds flat.

Yes, it’s not that much faster than connecting other wireless headphones via Bluetooth or (for Android users) NFC, and you’ll need the latest version of iOS. (They’ll connect to Android and older iOS devices like any regular Bluetooth headphones).

But the sheer simplicity of the set up is enough to make those new to the wireless audio experience (ie most people) feel right at home.

The AirPods’ other trump card is its array of built-in sensors and accelerometers, which work in collaboration with Apple’s W1 chip to offer a superior wireless experience.

Translated into English, the earpieces know automatically when they’re in your ears or not, pausing your music when you take them out and automatically resuming when you put them back in. It sounds like a small feature, but is a wonderfully simple way of pausing your music when one’s spouse or editor requires your attention.

Such control is limited, which is one of the AirPod’s main downsides. Double tapping either earpiece will take or end a phone call, or activate Siri.

Frustratingly though, there’s no means of altering the volume, apart from via Siri, which is awkward in the extreme, and not possible when you’re offline.

Wearing AirPods around the office attracted a lot of comment, not all of it positive (or printable). The earpieces’ suspended white tails make for a, let’s say, “unique” look, making it look like one is sporting earrings.

After a day or so though the comments, ahem, tailed off, and seemed to me and others like just another pair of earphones.

Apple have got the design spot on where it matters most though; unlike similar earpieces, the AirPods were both very comfortable and remarkably secure in my ear. Not only did they stay in my ears for half an hour of jogging, the hushed dialogue of the second season of Mr Robot was perfectly audible over the sound of the treadmill.

The design is rounded off perfectly by its simple yet beautifully designed case that doubles up as a battery pack on the go, helping you get five hours of use off a single charge.

The other main disappointment is that, for all their cool technical sophistication, the AirPods offer the same basic wireless performance of Apple’s standard white-wired headphones, for a not exactly cheap Dh699.

It’s true that high quality premium wireless audio will cost you more than double that from the likes of Bose and Sennheiser. Still, it would have been nice if Apple could have given music lovers a bit more bang for their buck.

The AirPods aren’t the finished article quite yet, in other words. But after a string of middling launches, Apple have taken the headphone experience a step forward with outstanding wireless performance and brilliant design, reminding frustrated Apple fans why we all fell in love with them in the first place.

jeverington@thenational.ae

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