Apple AirPods Almost Stole The Show At WWDC 2021: Wait Until You Hear What They Didn’t Announce
The announcements in this year’s WWDC came thick and fast during the 1 hour and 45 minutes of the keynote. Mind you, there was plenty more that didn’t get mentioned—subscribers to my AppleUnboxed newsletter saw a round-up on Wednesday of the six coolest innovations that went under the radar. You can sign up here if you’d like.
But though barely a minute was devoted to AirPods, there was much to relish. Here are the highlights of what’s coming to AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. Not to mention AirPods 3, whenever they might arrive.
I’m looking forward to this. If you’ve ever been in a noisy restaurant and your dinner companion is just too far to be heard easily, you may have done what I did and found yourself smiling and nodding after you’ve said “Pardon” too many times.
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Conversation Boost deals with this. It’s exclusive to AirPods Pro and uses the beam-forming capabilities of the microphones and computational audio smarts. AirPods of all varieties already have a Live Listen feature where you can place your iPhone on the table in front of you and it’ll transmit what it hears to your earbuds.
This takes things further for AirPods Pro. Keep your iPhone in your pocket, or wherever, and the microphones will focus on the voice of the person speaking in front of you. As you look at them, it’ll tune out conflicting noise. You can even adjust the level of ambient noise to help with this.
Find My AirPods Pro and AirPods Max
Improvements to the Find My app mean that if you’ve lost your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, they can send a Bluetooth signal so that they can be found through Find My.
Additionally, and this is a cool new feature, when they’re nearby—somewhere in your home if you could only spot the wretched thing—you can make it play a chime. You will also be able to see it using Proximity View as you approach it.
The “Here I am, come find me” chirp works whether the AirPods are in their case or not.
Overcome Separation Anxiety
Even better, if you leave your AirPods behind, you can now receive a Separation Alert on your iPhone that will notify you that you’ve left without your earbuds.
With luck, this will kick in soon enough for you to be able to easily retrieve them.
This was announced last month as part of a suite of accessibility upgrades for Apple devices. But Apple was promoting it again as part of new features which benefit AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.
Apple said,” Everyday sounds can be distracting, discomforting, or overwhelming, and in support of neurodiversity, Apple is introducing new background sounds to help minimise distractions and help users focus, stay calm, or rest. Balanced, bright, or dark noise, as well as ocean, rain, or stream sounds continuously play in the background to mask unwanted environmental or external noise, and the sounds mix into or duck under other audio and system sounds.”
If you’ve tried Spatial Audio on the iPad, you’ll know it’s dreamily good. It offers a surround-sound effect when you’re listening on AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. And it has dynamic head tracking, which means that when you turn your head away from the screen, the audio adjusts so it still seems to be coming from the iPad or iPhone.
It sounds like a minor thing but it’s one of those things you need to try. It feels so much more natural, and you really notice it when it’s not there.
Anyway, this feature is coming to the Mac, which is cool. It’s restricted to MacBook Airs and iMacs and MacBook Pros with the Apple M1 chip. It’ll also be available when you’re watching Apple TV. Now, I’d say that watching TV with headphones on is a pretty niche activity, but for those times when your significant other has gone to bed and you’ve jauntily said, “I won’t be long” and then gone on to watch another three episodes of your latest box set, headphones could be an advantage.
Spatial Audio in FaceTime
This is a related benefit. The improved capabilities of FaceTime include Spatial Audio for compatible headphones, such as AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.
By the way, if you can’t wait to try Spatial Audio, it’s just been made available for Apple Music as well. It’s first available on selected albums from artists like Ariana Grande and The Weeknd.
Hear Your Grocery List
This comes courtesy of the capability to announce reminders with Siri. Announce Messages with Siri works with AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max and means that you can hear time-sensitive notifications, for instance.
In the grocery store, Siri can read out your shopping list. You can set a location-specific reminder so Siri won’t read out the list until you’re actually in the store.
So, when can I get these benefits?
Apple will release iOS 15 in the Fall, though a public beta will be available soon, from July. As always, Apple advises, and I agree, that it’s important not to put the beta software on your main device. It’s still a beta, after all.