Many laughed at the idea of Apple’s AirPods with memes and jokes flying. But Apple is laughing now because the AirPods are something of a hit. In the world of wireless headphones, Apple has instantly leapt to the number one position.
The stats themselves are also really interesting. For one thing, while Apple has sold more in this short period than anyone else, it has somewhat done so at the expense of Beats – the brand Apple bought in 2014 – which has its own ranges of wireless headphones. Beats were in the number one position but now sit at number three.
The Statista chart above is sourced from a company called Slice Intelligence, which has some other fascinating data. For example, the AirPod launch also boosted Bose wireless sales from a 10.5% online sales share to 16.1%. Bose is now the number two retailer online for wireless headphones, up from number three. How this will shake out as time goes on will be very interesting indeed.
So what does all this say about the AirPods? Well, firstly that consumers like the idea of Apple headphones to go with Apple phones. Certainly, the pairing process of the AirPods is much, much better than on any other Bluetooth device. I have several pairs of wireless headphones, and as great as they are there are none of them that is as easy to pair as Apple’s product.
In the run up to the AirPod launch the press was full of stories about how much it would cost to replace as single AirPod if you lost one ($69, £65) and the same again to replace a lost charging case. There were also stories about how bad they were to repair. But I pointed out that no one has ever repaired a pair of headphones – although, of course, there are some who have braved a soldering iron to do so – and that the whole thing was largely irrelevant.
And customers seem not to be especially bothered by the replacement cost or repair problems. The reality is that any pair of Bluetooth headphones is going to have the same basic problems. A tiny battery will eventually stop holding a charge, and you may well lose the whole set of headphones as easily as an AirPod user would. Repairability is never going to be good on any set of headphones, honestly, let alone tiny, miniaturised digital radio transceivers.
And, of course, selling a lot of headphones in the first month won’t mean anything if Apple sells none in the next 11. But that’s quite unlikely, it seems that the demand is high and people are excited by the idea of what these headphones offer. I guess it’s got a bit of that magic that people love about Apple. It’s a product that’s designed to work better than the solutions from third parties, and it does indeed do that.
There’s some other interesting stuff in this data too. For example, over Christmas, the headphone market was made up of 75% wireless devices, a 25% increase over the year before. Apple’s risky headphone jack removal seems less risky when you look at these numbers – people wanted to be wireless and were happy to spend some money to get there.
And again, Apple boosted the whole market on AirPod release day – it was the single biggest day of headphone sales last year. So even Apple’s competitors may have won to some extent, especially if people were brought in by considering AirPods and then switching to something else at the last minute.
Speaking personally, I’ve moved over to Bluetooth headphones almost exclusively now. They are more convenient and offer battery life that’s more than enough to see me through a flight from London to Vegas. It’s been a long time coming, but 2016 was a huge leap for wireless headphones.