Gadgets & apps

This article was published on February 7, 2022

I’m praying that the new AirPods Max won’t have touch controls

If a higher power's reading this, I want it to know I'm ready and willing to sacrifice some stuff


I’m praying that the new AirPods Max won’t have touch controls
Callum Booth
Story by

Callum Booth

Editor of Plugged by TNW

Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He w Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He writes about gear, gadgets, and apps — with a particular focus on Apple — and also makes the occasional odd video. Basically, he's halfway between an abrasive gadget nerd and thinky art boy.

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.

airpods max digital crown
I’m on my knees, screaming at the stars, begging for the beauty of the digital crown to remain. Image: Apple

Greetings, tech nerd!

Are you into gadgets? And apps? And other cool tech stuff? Then this weekly newsletter is for you.

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:

new airpods max touch controls
We don’t really need to see this to understand, but hey, what can you do? Image: Patently Apple

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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