Callum BoothManaging Editor
Callum is the Managing Editor of TNW. He covers the full spectrum of technology, looks after editorial newsletters, and makes the occasional Callum is the Managing Editor of TNW. He covers the full spectrum of technology, looks after editorial newsletters, and makes the occasional odd video.
They say it’s a person’s flaws we fall in love with. That explains how I feel about the AirPods Max then.
Apple’s over-ear headphones are one of the more intriguing products the company has released in recent years — and I’ve found them both wonderful and frustrating.
Yet, I find myself feeling warm towards them. For every misstep with something like that appalling case, there’s a positive point. And one of those was the digital crown, a little control dial on the headphones.
But I’m here today with terrible news: its days might be numbered. Ugh, I can hardly type this… Apple may embrace touch controls on the new AirPods Max.
To be transparent, this isn’t a done deal. Apple has made no formal announcement — but the writing is on the wall.
Or, more accurately, somewhere in the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).
Patently Apple recently reported that the USPTO published an application for advanced touch controls on the AirPods Max. This image was included in the documentation:
From what I can tell, the touch controls on the new AirPods Max would work like those on other headphones. And by that, I mean poorly.
I’ve tried huge numbers of over-ear headphones with touch controls and while they often work well in a controlled environment, things are different in the real world.
Even when the technology is fantastic and works perfectly indoors (shout out to the wonderful Sony WH-1000XM4), it can be temperamental in certain conditions. You know, like outdoors. Or in the cold.
The digital crown on the AirPods Max has none of these drawbacks. It’s gorgeously elegant. I have precise control over the volume, it’s a joy to use, and I’ve not encountered anything quite like it on other headphones.
Part of my disappointment with this move is it feels Apple is shifting to touch controls because it can, rather than because it should.
Look, I’m not against the tech. I can understand why you’d incorporate touch controls into earbuds, as their size makes buttons fiddly and difficult to use, but this constraint isn’t something that over-ear headphones suffer from. By removing buttons, all you do is make them trickier to use.
And that’s the opposite of what I want from my day-to-day cans.
So, until the day that Apple announces the AirPods Max 2, I’m praying to whatever higher power has the time to listen to me. All I’m asking for, mighty one, is that Apple sticks with the digital crown and physical buttons.
I hope you’re listening. Otherwise I’m gonna have to go all Nietzsche on you.
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