After Apple’s 2023 iPhone keynote earlier this week, I tested out Apple’s new AirPods Pro with USB-C.
The new ‘Adaptive Transparency’ feature worked well, but there are other subtle improvements I think we should talk about since they didn’t get as much love during the presentation.
New hardware unlocked
For starters, now that both the iPhone and AirPods have USB-C ports, you can plug your AirPods case into your phone to give the earbuds a quick charge on the go. It’s less convenient than reverse-wireless charging but should waste less power as it transfers battery more efficiently than wireless options.
Apple made a subtle change to the acoustic architecture to improve audio, which is the only other change beyond the port on the new AirPods Pro. The company says this change allows the new AirPods to transfer latency-free lossless audio to its upcoming Vision Pro headset. At least, that’s part of the picture. Since the Vision Pro is also set to have Apple’s custom H2 wireless chip inside (the same as both versions of the AirPods Pro 2), the two devices can transfer wireless audio at a much higher fidelity than ever before.
While this likely doesn’t mean much for most people since they won’t get a Vision Pro in the next few years, it does mean Apple has unlocked the ability to stream high-end audio wirelessly within its own ecosystem. If HomePods and Apple’s phones, tablets and computers also get H2 support in future models, it could allow for higher wireless audio quality for those within the Apple ecosystem.
Adaptive Transparency and Conversation Awareness tests
The new and old versions of AirPods Pro (2nd-Gen) are set to support an update coming later this fall alongside iOS 17, making AirPods smarter than ever.
Adaptive Transparency uses machine learning to determine which sounds in the background should be blocked out and what should come through to the user. During our tests, we listened to the sounds of a busy street get muted down to a much more manageable level. In another example, we were listening to kitchen sounds. To show off how the system learns, a blender started on the pulse setting and at first, the earphones kept it at a mid-level, but as it continued, it recognized it as a bad sound and slowly started to block more of it out. Then, a doorbell sound was allowed through the noise-cancelling gates, and so was the sound of a child crying.
It was all very appealing and offered amicable compromises in Apple’s controlled environments. I have a lot of faith that it will be a nice middle ground between regular Transparency and Noise Cancelling modes on the AirPods for people who live in cities or others who like to be alert when wearing earbuds but want to avoid annoying sounds.
The other major new feature is called ‘Conversation Awareness,’ and when it’s turned on, it turns down your music and shifts you into Transparency mode once it detects you start talking. It also listens constantly, so it won’t turn off conversation mode until you and whomever you’re talking with both stop. Right before the mode ends, it will subtly start to raise the volume again, giving you some time to jump back in your conversation before the earbuds start blocking out all sounds again. You can also swipe on the AirPods’ touch panel to end the Conversation mode if it is triggered accidentally.
Updates to most AirPods
Coming in iOS 17 and the other fall 2023, Apple software updates bring a new feature to any app using the Apple CallKit. When you’re using an app like Facetime, WhatsApp or the Apple Phone app, you’ll be able to mute/unmute yourself by pressing on the stem during a call. This means that you’ll now need to doubt tap to hang up.
This is a minor update, but Apple expects it to be widely used since so many people spend time in meetings with their AirPods.
All of our Apple fall hardware event content can be found here.
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