Why are there so many true wireless headphones that look like AirPods?

Recently, an oolong incident occurred in the technology circle.

At the end of August, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it had intercepted 2,000 pirated AirPods. Calculated at the price of genuine products, the value of these headphones amounts to 398,000 US dollars (approximately RMB 2717902).

However, if you observe carefully, you can find that these headphones are OnePlus Buds true wireless headphones launched by OnePlus.

▲ Netizens found out soon after CBP released Twitter, this was an oolong incident

However, this also reflects from the side that there are many true wireless headphones on the market that are very similar in appearance to AirPods. Why is this?

While AirPods opened the true wireless headset market, it also triggered a big follow-up in the industry

AirPods may be Apple's most innovative, successful and dominant product in recent years.

A friend of mine who is a digital product enthusiast once told me this.

AirPods' light and comfortable wearing feeling, fast connection with Apple devices, low latency and high battery life have made it one of the most popular Apple products in recent years, and it has also triggered the boom in the true wireless headset market.

According to a report released by IDC, China’s wireless headset market shipped 42.56 million units in the first half of 2020, a year-on-year increase of 24%. Among them, true wireless headsets accounted for 64%, a year-on-year increase of 49%.

At present, the prices of AirPods on Apple's official website are 1,246 yuan, 1,558 yuan, and 1999 yuan. Under domestic e-commerce platform subsidies and promotions, the price of AirPods 2 has even exceeded 800 yuan, and the price of AirPods Pro is around 1,500 yuan. .

These price ranges obviously cannot satisfy all consumers. Different consumers have inconsistent mobile phones, purchase budgets, and functional requirements, which directly promoted a large number of brands to enter the true wireless headset market, launching true wireless headsets with different prices, styles, and functions.

In the IDC report, it was mentioned that in the first half of 2020, Apple's domestic wireless headset market share was 18.1%, and the other shares were divided by manufacturers such as Xiaomi, Huawei, and Edifier.

▲Picture from: IDC

While AirPods opened the true wireless headset market, they also set a benchmark. When manufacturers enter the true wireless headset market, they will inevitably have to compare with AirPods. Catching up with AirPods has become a common direction for manufacturers.

But catching up with AirPods is not easy. Other manufacturers have to overcome many problems, and the chip is one of the biggest thresholds.

The reason why AirPods can surpass most of the true wireless headset products on the market is in the forefront of the industry in terms of connection stability and low latency, which has a great relationship with the chip it uses.

Traditional Bluetooth headsets mostly use the solution of primary and secondary headsets, that is, the connected device will transmit sound data to one of the headsets through Bluetooth, and then this headset will transmit the data to the other headset through Bluetooth.

The data transmission between the two headphones is not synchronized, and the delay is inevitable.

As we mentioned in the previous article, the original AirPods cleverly solved this problem through the W1 chip. Apple has added a set of multiple links and snooping mechanisms to the original Bluetooth protocol. The popular explanation is that after the main device (iPhone) is successfully connected to the AirPods, the iPhone will transmit sound data to one of the earphones, the main earphone.

At the same time, there is a two-way transmission mechanism between the main earphone and the auxiliary earphone, which confirms the mutual transmission of data to ensure data synchronization. And when the main earphone receives data from the main device, the secondary earphone can also actively "sniff" the data received by the main earphone to further reduce the delay.

On the new AirPods, Apple has used a more advanced H1 chip to further reduce latency and enhance stability.

After several years of catching up, many similar chip products have appeared on the market. For example, Qualcomm has launched a chip based on TrueWireless technology. In addition to low-power Bluetooth technology support, fast connection of devices, it also supports secondary headset mirroring and copying the main headset. The received data effectively reduces the delay.

Prices chips are falling further, according to the wisdom of what is reported , in addition to Qualcomm chips, Shenzhen has been associated with the chip industry chain, chip cost price even as low as 2 yuan / or so pieces.

When I asked this question to someone in the Shenzhen headset industry, he gave me a similar answer:

Now the technical threshold of true wireless headsets is very low, and the more difficult one is noise reduction technology.

The lowering of technical barriers has led to the emergence of a large number of true wireless headset products. In addition to pirated AirPods, many brands have launched products that look similar to AirPods.

▲ Searching for true wireless headphones on the e-commerce platform, you can find many products that look very similar to AirPods

As for why so many manufacturers choose this shape, on the one hand, it is because AirPods has created a market for true wireless headphones, and users have a high degree of recognition for this shape.

On the other hand, AirPods does represent an optimal solution for the shape design of the headset.

AirPods is an optimal solution for headset design

Different earphone shapes often have an impact on wearing stability, wearing comfort, even music transmission, sound quality, etc., and these are the most important parts of the true wireless earphone experience.

The true wireless headsets on the market can generally be divided into two types, one is a semi-in-ear headset like AirPods, and the other is an in-ear headset like AirPods Pro.

In-ear headphones, in the eyes of many people, always feel uncomfortable after wearing them for a long time. This is because the in-ear headphones will extend into the ear canal, and it is easy to form a "foreign body sensation" after wearing for a long time.

In terms of wearing comfort, AirPods is more acclaimed than AirPods Pro. In order to make it have a good wearing feeling and wearing stability, Apple has spent a lot of thought on the appearance design.

In 2012, Apple launched EarPods earphones, and then this design has been used on AirPods.

In Apple’s official video, Jony Ive once stated that it’s impossible to design EarPods:

Human ears are very unique, and everyone’s ears are different. It is impossible to design a headset that can adapt to everyone’s ears, which is tantamount to designing a pair of shoes that everyone can wear. .

As a result, everyone now knows that from EarPods to AirPods, they can adapt to most people's ears.

Although everyone’s ears are not the same, they still have a certain similarity. Jony Ive led a team to perform 3D scans on hundreds of people’s ears to find similarities and get the most common ear shapes. Design the shape of the earphone, and finally came up with EarPods.

This process took three years.

▲ Picture from Gear Patrol

AirPods represents an optimal solution for the shape design of the headset.

When I communicated with another person in the headset industry, he gave me a similar answer: In the HiFi industry, the design of the public model of the headset is often corresponding to the private model. The private model here refers to individual customization. Headphones.

Generally speaking, the production of a customized headset will print the individual ears in a professional hospital or institution, that is, obtain personal ear contour information, and design the shape of the headset based on this. The custom headset that is eventually developed is often It can directly fit the contour of the individual's ears, which greatly reduces the feeling of foreign body and makes it more comfortable to wear.

The public model is to adjust the private model to fit most people's ear contours so that most people can wear it directly.

In addition, adjusting the shape of the headset is likely to have an impact on the sound quality, which often requires targeted tuning.

For a small company, there are too many adjustments to change the shape of the headset, and it may not be able to maintain the wearing feeling and sound quality similar to AirPods. For a large company, it is difficult and difficult to propose an optimal solution again. The cost is not small.

The cost here is not only money cost, but also time cost. You have to know that Apple has also spent 3 years developing EarPods. With the market for true wireless headsets becoming more and more hot, and the technology threshold is gradually decreasing, the cost is so high. Time cost is not necessarily cost-effective.

The reason why there are so many long true wireless headsets like AirPods on the market is that manufacturers choose based on factors such as cost and effect.

Of course, it is not true wireless headphones without other shape designs on the market.

Difference is the core competitiveness of true wireless headsets

When communicating with people in the headset industry, they told me that the current real wireless headset market is too homogenized, and how to make differences and define products is the most difficult problem to solve.

There are not many manufacturers that can differentiate true wireless headsets. Sony and Samsung are one of the few manufacturers.

We mentioned in the evaluation of Sony WF-1000XM3 that its wearing stability is better than that of the previous generation. It can be fixed in the ear without external "shark fin", and the earphone and ear can form each other when worn. Good support.

Sony’s official introduction also emphasizes this point. In order to allow true wireless headphones to be worn firmly on the ears, Sony has added a "three-point fixed structure" design to the headphones, which matches the contour of the ear through these three support points.

Of course, as an in-ear headset, the Sony WF-1000XM3 can also use earplugs of different sizes to adapt to different human ears to reduce the "foreign body sensation" when wearing it.

Samsung's Galaxy Buds Live takes a different approach. Although it is a semi-in-ear headset like AirPods, the two sides are very different in appearance, looking like beans and a bit like waist flowers.

We also mentioned in the actual experience that Galaxy Buds Live is not equipped with earplugs on the sound-producing part, but equipped with earplugs at the position of the charging contact behind the headset. Earplugs of different sizes will affect the stability and comfort of wearing.

Difference is often an important reason for consumer choice, and appearance, function, price, etc. are all important parts of it. Like mobile phones, the market capacity of true wireless headsets cannot increase indefinitely. There is a ceiling for the number of users, and product differences Sex is one of the fundamentals for manufacturers to continue operations.

It is of course possible to choose a shape similar to AirPods and choose the "optimal solution" of headset design, but as mentioned above, the technical threshold of true wireless headsets has become lower and lower. If there is no difference at the product level, then How to compete with other brands?

This is probably an issue that most true wireless headset brands need to consider in the future.

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Ai Faner | Original link · View comments · Sina Weibo