As AirPods continue to grow in popularity, the truly wireless earbud market is also becoming increasingly crowded. Samsung, for instance, just launched the Galaxy Buds, while Apple’s Beats brand also introduced the Powerbeats Pro.
Amazon is also rumored to be planning an entry into the totally wireless earbuds market with a focus on sound quality. But can they compete with AirPods?
According to a report from Bloomberg, Amazon is planning a competitor to AirPods for release as early as the second half of this year. The headphones are said to “look and act similar to AirPods,” but Amazon is reportedly striving for better sound quality than AirPods.
Furthermore, Amazon’s truly wireless earbuds will be the company’s first and biggest attempt to take Alexa portable. While Alexa is generally a far more capable voice assistant than Siri, there are questions as to how it will be able to interface over Bluetooth through Amazon’s earbuds. More on that later.
As far as price, Bloomberg’s report didn’t make any claims, but it did note that Amazon “typically undercuts the competition.” Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Amazon’s unnamed truly wireless earbuds come in at a lower price than AirPods, which start at $159.
Amazon might be able to beat AirPods on sound quality – and maybe even price – but what it won’t be able to match is the integration that Apple’s H1 chip provides.
The H1 chip
The biggest thing going for AirPods – and Apple’s wireless headphone efforts in general – is the H1 chip. For users of the Apple ecosystem, this provides incredible integration with iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch, Mac, and Apple TV.
Switching between devices with AirPods is very easy. There’s no need to put AirPods in “pairing mode” or dig through Bluetooth menus. Instead, iCloud and the H1 chip work in conjunction with one another to seamlessly handoff between devices. The H1 chip has taken one of the biggest complexities of wireless headphones and greatly simplified it.
The first generation AirPods integrated what Apple called the W1 chip. While not as quick as the H1 chip, the W1 is still a far better experience than traditional Bluetooth, even today. That means that people still using AirPods 1 (such as yours truly) won’t feel the need to “upgrade” to Amazon’s truly wireless earbuds.
The one advantage Amazon’s earbuds might have over AirPods is Alexa integration. Alexa is generally a lot more capable and reliable than Siri, but there are questions about how it will be able to integrate with iOS.
Bragi integrated Alexa into its truly wireless earbuds, but it recently announced its exit from the consumer hardware business. Bose’s popular QuietComfort 35 headphones support Alexa, but you have to press the “Action” button to activate the assistant. You can’t simply say “Alexa” to issue a command, which takes away the “hands-free” nature of a virtual assistant.
There are a lot of unknowns about Amazon’s truly wireless earbuds will support Alexa. Will it be truly hands-free like Hey Siri on AirPods 2? The H1 chip in AirPods handles the Hey Siri processing, so it’s unclear how Alexa might function over traditional Bluetooth.
One possibility would have been for Amazon’s earbuds to integrate cellular, but according to the Bloomberg report, that’s not in the cards.
Of course, AirPods aren’t for everyone and they simply don’t fit everyone’s ears, but that’s why Apple also has its Beats lineup of headphones. We’ve already seen the H1 chip with Hey Siri expand to Powerbeats Pro, and it seems likely it will come to other Beats headphones in the future. That could include a truly wireless version of BeatsX, upgraded versions of Beats Studio and Solo headphones, and more.
The fact of the matter is that for better or for worse, Amazon can’t integrate with iOS in the same way that Apple can. Its AirPods competitors might sound better and be cheaper, but for people who want the best possible wireless headphone experience, AirPods (or Beats) remain the best choice of all.
What do you think about Amazon’s plans to compete with AirPods? Let us know down in the comments.