You may not have noticed that it has been four and a half years since the first generation of AirPods was released.
From the first-generation AirPods to the second-generation AirPods equipped with the H1 chip, there is no difference in appearance. Until the main noise reduction AirPods Pro appeared, the AirPods family had a second face.
▲ From wired to wireless, the evolution of Apple earphones. Picture from: appledsign
Recently, the foreign media @theapplehub released a rendering of the new AirPods Pro. From the picture, the appearance of the new AirPods Pro has changed dramatically. The design of the "headphone handle" was cancelled, and the in-ear "Peas" solution similar to Sony, Samsung, and Bose was adopted.
▲ Picture from: theapplehub
AirPods Pro without a headphone handle has become "AirDods Dro". According to the news, the new AirPods Pro has now entered the production line and is expected to be officially unveiled in April this year.
Regarding the authenticity of the above renderings, we cannot conclude. However, under the "force" of Sony noise reduction beans, Samsung Galaxy Buds and other products, Apple has enough reasons to accelerate the innovation of the AirPods product line.
If Apple really makes a big move on the next-generation AirPods Pro, cutting off the headphone handle design, it can indeed give the new product a strong degree of recognition. But we are more concerned about the impact of this change on the user experience.
Why is the headphone handle born?
In the wired era, the earphone handle has always been an indispensable part of the earphone, especially the flat plug.
Why would a designer add such a small handle to the headset? In fact, there are many considerations.
First of all, its role is to strengthen the connection between the earphone cable and the cavity, so that the cable is not easy to wear or tear on the head of the earplug. Generally speaking, the wire at the handle is more complex and diverse in daily use.
▲ The location where the wire is easy to wear
Everyone who has worn wired earphones should have had a similar experience: the earplugs fall off from the ears when the earphone cord is pulled by your hands, clothes buttons, door handles and other objects. In this process, the force on the connection between the wire and the cavity is relatively concentrated. The existence of the ear handle can withstand a part of the impact and extend the life of the headset.
Even if some wired in-ear earplugs weaken the presence of the earstalk, without exception, they will be reinforced at the connection between the cavity and the wire.
▲"Shrinked" headphone handle. Picture from: sathya
In addition, the presence of the earphone handle makes it convenient for users to wear and take it off.
When wearing, the left and right ears can be easily distinguished by the "L" and "R" on the ear handle. Rotating the ear handle can also adjust the firmness of the headset. When removing, it is easier and more elegant to remove the earphone by pinching the earstalk with your hand than pulling the cavity directly from the pinna.
For manufacturers, the headphone handle is also an excellent place to expose the brand identity. Most manufacturers will choose to engrave the logo on the earstalk instead of the cavity.
▲Image from: pinterest
What is in the handle of the wireless headset?
After entering the wireless era, although manufacturers no longer need to use earphone handles to reinforce the wire connection. However, the earphone handle is easy to wear and take off, and many manufacturers still retain this design.
▲ Picture from: timesofindia
More importantly, the internal space of wireless headsets can be described as "inches of land". The earphone handle can provide designers with ample operating space.
Let's first take a look at the mainstream "rod earphones" and what devices are installed in the earphone handle.
The first is AirPods Pro. According to the dismantling diagram of iFixit, there is no battery in the earphone handle, but multiple functional devices are hidden. The two red boxes circle the microphone, and the green box is the force sensor, which detects the user's pressing force and is used to switch the noise reduction mode.
▲ Picture from: iFixit
Seen from the other side, the orange frame encircles a long antenna. (The yellow part is the H1 chip, but not in the earstalk). There is a charging electric shock at the bottom connected to the FPC. It can be seen that the functions of the AirPods Pro headphone handle include sound pickup, touch control, signal transmission and charging.
▲ Picture from: iFixit
Next, look at the second generation of AirPods. Its ear handle design is different from AirPods Pro, and the shape is longer. Judging from the disassembly of iFixit, there is a cylindrical battery inside the headphone handle, and there are no other functional devices. Of course, charging is still done through the metal contacts at the bottom.
▲ AirPods second-generation battery. Picture from: iFixit
We found its dismantling report on OPPO’s star product Enco X noise-cancelling headphones on "I Love Audio Network". From the disassembly diagram, there is a circuit board in the earphone handle of Enco X, in addition to a Bluetooth antenna, pickup net, charging contacts and so on.
▲OPPO Enco X interior. Picture from: I love audio network
Looking closely at the circuit board, you can find that the two microphones occupy a relatively large position. It can be seen that the main functions of Enco X's earphone handle are sound pickup, signal transmission, and charging.
"I Love Audio Network" also disassembled Huawei FreeBuds Pro noise-canceling headphones. The headphone handle of FreeBuds Pro uses a square design, and the built-in functional devices are more complicated.
▲Huawei FreeBuds Pro motherboard A side. Picture from: I love audio network
The disassembly diagram shows that there are two motherboards connected to the headset handle, including three microphones, feedforward, feedback, and call, Bluetooth antenna, main control chip, memory chip, audio DSP chip and so on. There is also a pressure sensor on the side of the earphone handle for sensing gesture control. There are metal contacts at the bottom of the earphone handle for contact charging.
▲Huawei FreeBuds Pro motherboard B side. Picture from: I love audio network
Summarizing the dismantling of the above several "stick earphones", it can be seen that the utilization rate of the earphone handle space is very high. Noise-canceling headphones generally put button batteries in the cavity, and the headphone handle is used for sound pickup, signal transmission, smart touch, charging, and so on.
What will become of the handleless AirPods Pro?
Technically speaking, it is not difficult for AirPods Pro to cancel the design of the earphone handle, but it takes a lot of effort.
First of all, if the earphone handle is eliminated, the charging contacts need to be redesigned, and the shape of the battery compartment and the way the earphones are placed also need to be reimagined.
Changing the design of the battery compartment also needs to consider how to facilitate the user to take out the headset. The mainstream solution currently on the market is to let the "handleless earphones" lie flat in the battery compartment for users to pinch out.
▲ Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
From this point of view, the headphone compartment in the rendering at the beginning of the article must not be the final form.
In addition, after canceling the earphone handle, the volume of the earphone cavity will definitely increase. The current AirPods Pro earphone cavity has been filled with speaker units, batteries, H1 chips and other devices. If the microphone, force sensor, antenna, charging contacts and other devices in the earphone handle are moved into the earphone cavity, the current AirPods Pro head cavity size cannot be satisfied.
▲ AirPods Pro has no extra space on the head. Picture from: johnlewis
The enlargement of the cavity brings many troubles. Especially the stability and comfort of wearing need to be addressed first.
We can see that the cavities of Samsung's Galaxy Buds are almost all shaped. For example, the Galaxy Buds Live uses a "kidney" design to fit the auricle and achieve a better wearing effect.
Another example is Bose's noise-reducing earplugs, which have an oval appearance design and are matched with shark fin silicone earplugs to ensure that the earplugs are not easy to fall off the auricle.
Judging from the rendering, the AirPods Pro without a headphone handle has neither shark fin ear caps nor special-shaped design. This should be difficult to meet the standards in terms of wearing comfort and firmness. If Apple cancels the headphone handle, it is likely to redesign the cavity shape.
Add points for appearance, reduce points for experience?
Since we have not seen the AirPods Pro without the earphone handle, the experience of it can only be guessed.
According to the experience of handleless earplugs on the market, AirPods Pro without earphone handles undoubtedly faces many challenges.
The biggest problem should be the comfort and firmness of wearing . After the cavity of the earphone is enlarged and heavier, the burden on the ear has also increased a lot.
Friends who have worn closed earplugs should have a deep understanding: the ear canal will feel swollen and painful, sometimes itching and oily. After canceling the design of the earphone handle, the earmuffs of the earphone need to be tightly inserted into the ear canal to keep it firmly worn. And the tighter it is, the more this discomfort will appear.
After the weight of the original earphone handle is transferred to the cavity, most of the weight of the body will also be borne by the ear canal. In the process of experiencing various bean-shaped earplugs, such as Bose and Sony's noise reduction beans, I will obviously feel that they are stronger than the handle earplugs such as AirPods Pro and OPPO Enco X, and the ears are slightly tired.
▲ Hanging earphone cavity. Picture from: theverge
Secondly, the cancellation of the earphone handle will also have an adverse effect on the radio effect .
An AirPods Pro has three microphones, two are used to detect noise signals inside and outside the headset, and one is used to pick up voice and other signals. This microphone, which is mainly used to pick up human voices, is located at the lower end of the headphone handle and points toward the wearer's lips.
If this microphone is placed in the cavity, the directivity of the pickup will face more severe challenges. The call quality of the wireless noise-cancelling headset itself is not satisfactory, and the cancellation of the headset handle will inevitably affect the sound pickup effect.
In addition, the standard gesture control function of the current wireless headset, after moving from the headset handle to the cavity, you will hear the sound of "dongdongdong" under tapping operations such as clicking and double-clicking, which will affect the control experience .
▲ Picture from: pinterest
Of course, these drawbacks mentioned above are summarized on the current "bean-shaped" headphones. Under the current battery bottleneck, it is not easy to cancel the earphone handle and make the wireless noise-cancelling earphones light and comfortable.
Handless AirPods Pro, on the way
Although canceling the headphone handle, it seems that there is no small risk. But it is undeniable that handleless earphones look more technological, integrated and integrated.
This wireless and integrated design concept happens to be what Apple has pursued in recent years and is also a trend in high-end earplugs.
▲Samsung Galaxy buds pro
In fact, it is not only headphones, but also the general trend of wireless and integration in the entire consumer electronics field.
Advances in screen pressure sensitivity, screen sound technology, wireless charging and other fields have further enhanced the integration of mobile phones, and even developed in the direction of non-porous. The Meizu Zero and Xiaomi four-curved waterfall screen concept machines are the explorers of the nonporous direction.
▲ Meizu Zero
With the improvement of WiFi technology, the laptop does not need to be plugged into the network cable. The advancement of Bluetooth technology makes the mouse and keyboard cables no longer messy on the desktop. The CNC integrated molding process makes the laptop integrated and doubles the sense of refinement.
▲ The integrated craftsmanship that MacBook Air was proud of
Whether we can see the cancellation of the earphone handle and the integrated and stronger AirPods Pro is still unknown. But what is certain is that this is only a matter of time, and Apple is moving in this direction.
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