Are AirPods Disposable? Kind of (..And Apple Needs to Change That)

AirPods Credit: Yasar Turanli / Shutterstock
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When you spend upwards of $150 on an electronic device, you probably don’t expect it to be disposable. But, then, what about AirPods? The Bluetooth headphones probably aren’t meant to be disposable, but with a finite battery and poor repairability, they certainly won’t last forever. Here’s what you should know about that problem — and how Apple could fix it.

Why AirPods Won’t Last Forever

AirPods really are a marvel of engineering, if you take into account how many critical components Apple packed into such a tiny form factor.

But that form factor, however, comes with a disadvantage in terms of repairability. In short, AirPods aren’t really repairable at all. And Apple knows this.

According to a Washington Post piece from earlier this year, the way that AirPods are designed means that their batteries aren’t serviceable without destroying the casing. Apple doesn’t even have the mechanisms to test the battery health of AirPods.

That becomes a problem when you consider how small the batteries in AirPods are already.

While their battery life is fine right out of the box, AirPods use lithium-ion batteries that naturally degrade over time. Within a few years of normal usage, average users may find that their AirPods don’t even last half the estimated battery life.

Combined with their lack of repairability, it’s a problem. WaPo even notes that AirPods brought in for battery service are simply thrown away (or recycled) and swapped out for new ones.

Apple doesn’t market AirPods that way, though. It only says that they’re designed to be “long-lasting.”

Why Apple Should Change This

To be clear, this is a problem with pretty much any small, wireless earbuds. Unless they came with replaceable batteries, their lithium-ion batteries will naturally decay over time. And, depending on their design, they may be impossible to service.

But Apple is in a unique position because of its commitment to sustainability and resource-conscious business practices. For the Cupertino tech giant, a “disposable” product just doesn’t line up.

And it is more of a problem when it comes to resources and sustainable practices than it is for consumers. That same WaPo story from earlier suggests that most users can get discounted AirPods if they use the phrase “battery service.”

Of course, Apple says that it works closely with third parties to ensure that disposed AirPods are properly recycled. But the company could do a lot more for the environment — and for consumers — if they just changed the design.

AirPods Pro may be a step in the right direction. Like their predecessor, they got a “0” repairability score from repair site iFixit. But the site did note that the AirPods Pro are “theoretically semi-serviceable.”

Not that making AirPods more repairable would be easy. But for such a popular product, it would definitely be worth doing in more ways than one.

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