Ever since Apple debuted its new Audio Sharing feature in iOS 13 last year, it’s been held back by one pretty significant limitation — a cost of entry that may be prohibitively high for many folks.
In fact, when the feature was first announced, it sounded like only those with a set of AirPods would be able to participate, and while Apple later expanded it to embrace more Beats Wireless headphones, the most inexpensive set of earbuds to offer the feature were the $100 BeatsX wireless.
Despite the fact that the Bluetooth 5.0 spec supports something called Dual Bluetooth Audio Sharing, Apple hasn’t gone with this more open standard, but has obviously chosen to roll its own audio sharing protocol. In fact, Apple’s iOS 13 Audio Sharing doesn’t even require Bluetooth 5.0, since it’s clearly supported on older headphones like the BeatsX along with Apple’s 2017 fifth-generation iPad and 2019 seventh-generation iPod touch, which all use Bluetooth 4.x.
This ultimately meant that looking for somebody to share your audio with meant finding somebody with a set of earphones that actually used Apple’s W1 chip, and with the cheapest option available coming in at $100, it wasn’t too likely your friends or family members were about to switch from whatever they were already using.
The end result is that Audio Sharing has likely been a sadly under-utilized feature on the iPhone, but while it doesn’t look like Apple is about to expand the feature to third-party headphones, it’s at least decided to lower the bar by producing a new set of Beats headphones that are affordable enough to encourage more people to jump in
The Great Equalizer
We’re talking of course about the new Beats Flex, a set of W1-equipped earbuds that come in at a really reasonable $50 asking price, which also means that we’ll likely see enough sales showing up to allow users to snag a pair for even less than that.
Considering that until recently, Apple sold its own wired EarPods within Lightning connector for $29, the new Beats Flex are actually a pretty incredible deal, and even at Apple’s new $19 asking price for EarPods, it’s hard to see why anybody but the most budget-conscious users wouldn’t pay the difference for a truly wireless experience.
In fact, in some ways Beats Flex are probably another perk that Apple is offering up in exchange for removing the EarPods from all of its iPhones this year; clearly the company really wants to push users toward a totally wireless future, and it’s hard to argue with a $50 set of earbuds that are almost certain to provide better audio quality that the pack-ins that Apple has been offering for years.
Thanks to the W1 chip, Beats Flex will be able to do a lot of things that other wireless headphones can’t, which of course includes access to Audio Sharing and also seamless pairing with all of your iOS devices via iCloud (although you’ll still need the newer H1 chip to take advantage of automatic device switching in iOS 14, which means that feature only works with second-gen AirPods, AirPods Pro, Powerbeats, or Solo Pro).
More significantly, however, access to Audio Sharing now means that none of your friends and family members will have any excuse not to have a compatible set of earbuds. In fact, at the price of Beats Flex we imagine that they’ll make a pretty good stocking stuffer this holiday season.