The Upgrade

AirPods Are Now One of Apple’s Most Important Products

As the iPhone becomes less relevant, the wearables will rise

Lance Ulanoff
Published in
6 min readJan 31, 2019
Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty

Few Apple products have suffered the undue scorn and ridicule endured by AirPods.

Introduced in late 2016, Apple’s first wireless, Bluetooth earbuds were at first a joke and a meme machine. People thought they looked ridiculous and were certain they’d fall out of your ears and vanish without a trace.

Pictures of me wearing them from the launch event popped up here and there, often with an accompanying laughter emoji. College Humor called them “a legitimately terrible idea,” and perfectly summarized the key concerns (“you’re going to lose them IMMEDIATELY”; “one’s going to fall out of your ear and onto something gross”).

But more than two years and millions of units later, the $159 AirPods have become a Herculean success story. The accessory is now vital to Apple’s future, according to Tim Bajarin, a longtime Apple analyst and president of Creative Strategies, Inc.

“Voice is a new part of the man-to-machine interface, and getting info on demand through a headset tied to services is an important part of what will be [Apple’s] future AR strategy,” said Bajarin.

Even if that strategy has yet to be fully communicated to customers, they’re clearly warming to the once-maligned headset. Apple CEO Tim Cook went out of his way to highlight them in an earnings call last year. “This product is a runaway hit, and we’re working hard to meet the incredible demand,” he said.

AirPods sales have helped drive Apple’s wearable segment, which includes Apple Watch and Beats, to $10 billion in revenue between 2017 and 2018. Put simply, AirPods are a complete success.

This is somewhat surprising, because it took awhile for my perception of Apple’s AirPods to meet reality. When I reviewed the headphones in September 2016, people stared. In those first weeks and months of use, I got the same question over and over again: “Don’t they fall out?”

They never did, and through cleaning, walking, running, or shaking my head vigorously, they never have. Granted, I may have the perfect ear shape for them: My tragus — the



Lance Ulanoff

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.