Last week, after about three days of non-use, I went to put on my AirPods and found that, despite being on the charger, they were only at 77% charge. I’ve had an intermittent issue with the left AirPod where it doesn’t make a solid connection in the charging case and drains instead of charging. This is a tad inconvenient.
Usually I can resolve this by removing the AirPod, checking/blowing on the bud and inside the case, then re-inserting it, at which point the power light turns orange, indicating charging. Five minutes’ worth will give me about an hour of playtime. Not bad.
But this did not happen. I put on the AirPods and confirmed the left one would not play at all, as expected. I fiddled with them for a bit, then went into the Bluetooth settings on my iPhone and chose Disconnect Device. It disconnected.
It would not reconnect.
Lacking any other options, I then chose Forget This Device. It forgot it.
And that was the last time my AirPods interacted with the phone at all. I get a blinking green power like that pulses three times when I pop the case open, then nothing. They are effectively dead.
But this is not the grand flaw I speak of, it’s a roundabout introduction to the actual flaw.
I looked up when I purchased the AirPods: October 2017. They were out of warranty. I looked up repair costs on Apple’s site:
It’s possible the left bud is fine and it’s a flaw in the case itself that is to blame, in which case I’d be looking at a $69 repair cost. This is high, but not completely outrageous–AirPods cost $219 Canadian. But it would still leave me with 16-month old batteries. If I got those replaced I’d be looking at a total bill of $207. Pretty much the cost of a new set.
And here’s where the grand flaw of true wireless earbuds comes in. The beauty of AirPods and similar earbuds is that there are no wires to tangle with. Having to switch back to wired buds in the last week reminded me what an annoyance that is. The extra cost of the AirPods was worth the convenience.
That convenience comes at a price, though. Because there are no wires, the battery must be contained entirely within the ear buds themselves–and they are tiny. And like all rechargeable batteries, they will degrade over time. When the batteries are this small, the degradation can have a major impact on battery life. Rated at a maximum of five hours, people who bought AirPods in 2016 when they debuted are now reporting that they are getting anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes on a full charge now.
This is normal behavior, though you will not find anything official about this in Apple’s site. That means that when the batteries deteriorate to the point that they are no longer usable, you have two choices: pay $219 for a new set, or pay $138. Neither of these is very appealing. If you go the latter route of battery replacement and imagine they need to be replaced every two years (ie. out of warranty), you are looking at a yearly cost (not counting the original $219 investment) of $69. Is paying $69 every year to keep using your AirPods reasonable? They’re not sold as a subscription service, so I’d say no.
But if you asked someone, would you pay $5.75 per month to always get your AirPods batteries refreshed so they never die, I’d bet a surprising number would say yes. That works out to $69 per year, of course.
So I am now left wondering what to do. The repair will be expensive and will only extend the life a few years. Replacement will cost another $219. Waiting for a new model will require going without–and Apple’s trend over the last four years is to jack up the prices on any new version of anything.
For now, I’m just going to ponder, both on what to do, and about how we seem to have entered the era of ongoing costs for something (headphones, earbuds) that never had any real ongoing costs before, without even realizing it.