So Apple has announced the PowerBeats Pro. They’re basically AirPods on steroids; at $249 the cost is a solid $90 more than the AirPod equivalents with no wireless charging (of which more in a minute) but the battery life, sound quality, noise isolation and customizable fit are all supposed to be far superior. Which makes sense, on paper. The charging case might be too big for a pocket, but at 9 hours that might not be a problem (especially if you can go one ear at a time or something, or charge all day at work, or…
Actually, let’s think about this. I bought the BeatsX for $100 about a year and a half ago, and for the most part I’ve been reasonably happy with them. The little wing things and ear tips mean they fit reasonably well and keep other sounds out, the fact they hang around my neck makes me less wary of losing one accidentally, and the fact they charge with a Lightning cable makes it easy to use them with my phone because I can top up from the same cable. But the BeatsX don’t quite make it through a full day, and you definitely want to make sure they are fully charged by 4 PM if you’re heading up to the city.
And the annoying thing is – that’s $100 for, right now, a little over 18 months of use. How long can I expect these to last? Given that the battery life is already not what it was, how long can you expect any regularly-used built-in battery device to last anymore? We got acclimated to buying a new phone every two years, and then when we started keeping phones longer than two years, we had to pony up for battery replacements to keep them viable. How about AirPods? Will you get two years for $160? Three years? Can you reasonably expect the Powerbeats Pro to last almost twice as long as the AirPods? And for goodness sakes, will any of these things ever have battery replacement as an option so we don’t keep throwing away more electronics?
Ultimately, there’s a good case here that you just need to pay the price for something that has a replaceable battery and can be used with a cord in a pinch. I don’t know offhand where that might be found, and there’s the age old problem of not wanting to carry big over-the-ear cans everywhere, but it drives home a point I’ve thought about for a while: it’s getting harder and harder to put money on things you know aren’t going to last. This isn’t $19 for a replacement level pair of corded earbuds, this is the same money I paid to replace my iPhone SE. $249 is more than I’ve spent on most phones in my life.
Still, I suppose I should be grateful they came out at all. The AirPower fiasco – Apple cancelling a product without ever shipping it, over a year after announcing it and less than a week after having it featured in the instructions for the new AirPods – is one of those things where you can say without fear of contradiction “this never happened when Steve was around.” Folks will point to the white iPhone, and that was indeed slow off the mark, but 1) it was a colorway rather than a whole new product and 2) eventually it shipped. We’re still waiting on the alleged new Mac Pro. The HomePod took forever to show up. The original AirPods were delayed past the holiday season, and the new ones were allegedly held for the AirPower mat which never showed up. Apple announces things now with nothing but a season, if that, as an anticipated ship date. A far cry from the days of “this is available for purchase today,” even if FCC filings and Chinese supply chain leaks make that sort of thing impossible now.
I was just about able to commit to $99 for a pair of wired Bluetooth earbuds. I don’t know if I can go over double that, especially when nothing seems to last more than a couple of years anymore. That’s bad arithmetic.