Two years ago, Desmond Hughes heard so many of his favorite podcasters extolling AirPods, Apple’s tiny, futuristic $170 wireless headphones, that he decided they were worth the splurge. He quickly became a convert.
Hughes is still listening to podcasters talk about their AirPods, but now they’re complaining. The battery can no longer hold a charge, they say, rendering them functionally useless.
Hughes, who is 35 and lives in Newport News, Virginia, has noticed a similar thing about his own set: At first, their charge lasted five hours, but now they sometimes last only half an hour. He frequently listens to one while charging the other—not optimal conditions for expensive headphones.
The lithium-ion batteries that power AirPods are everywhere. One industry report forecast that sales would grow to $109.72 billion by 2026, from $36.2 billion in 2018. They charge faster, last longer, and pack more power into a small space than other types of batteries do. But they die faster, too, often after just a few years, because every time you charge them, they degrade a little. They can also catch fire or explode if they become damaged, so technology companies make them difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to replace themselves.
The result: A lot of barely chargeable AirPods and wireless mice and Bluetooth speakers are ending up in the trash as consumers go through products—even expensive ones—faster than ever.
This is quite disappointing. I bought mine when they were released, in December 2016. I don’t use them a lot; I use them for phone calls (I work at home, and I prefer making phone calls with headphones), and to listen to music and podcasts when I walk. But that is, on average, less than one hour a day, and sometimes I don’t use them for several days.
Nevertheless, I find that they don’t connect to my iPhone reliably any more, and they don’t last as long as they used to. I’m not in a situation where they need replacing yet, especially given the cost, but that headphone jack is looking a lot better now in hindsight.