Apple AirPods to Become Voice Activated
Bloomberg is reporting that Apple AirPods will receive and upgrade in 2018 enabling voice-activated access to Siri. AirPods currently require users to tap the earbud to activate Siri. The update is expected to enable Siri to be always listening similar to a feature available today for iPhones. This change would make AirPods a voice-first device more like smart speakers. The video summary below was developed by Bloomberg.
AirPods Are Siri’s Secret Weapon
NPD Group reported in September that AirPods accounted for 85% of wireless earbud sales in the first half of 2017. The devices are popular with consumers and provide a avenue to facilitate more frequent Siri use. It is one thing to have Siri always with you on an iPhone, it is another to have Siri always with you in your ear.
Juniper Research estimates that nearly 80% of all devices sold in the wireless “hearables” segment in 2022 will have voice assistant access. Even more remarkable is that about two-thirds have the capability today. That is largely driven by AirPods. Making Siri more accessible makes strategic sense for Apple, but the more important strategic move will be to upgrade Siri’s capabilities.
A Minor Upgrade, But Progress
The current product does not offer total hands free operation from the AirPods directly. However, if your iPhone hears the “Hey Siri,” wake word today and AirPods are connected to the phone, then Siri will activate and you can control it entirely hands free. Since few people use AirPods without an iPhone, it is not clear that this new feature will drive current owners to upgrade.
However, if the new version will activate even if the phone doesn’t identify the Siri wake word or if “always listening” is not activated on the iPhone then some users may find it useful. This is particularly true since Siri on the iPhone in always listening mode can enable other people to access your phone features without unlocking your device. Moving this feature directly to AirPods could add a small layer of privacy protection by enabling hands free Siri access even while the always listening feature is turned off.
Bloomberg also indicated AirPods may receive a bigger upgrade in 2019 to include a W2 or even a W3 chip while also adding water resistance. The hypothesis is that Apple is looking to take a popular product and add new features each year to entice upgrades similar to an iPhone upgrade cycle.