In many ways, Apple’s AirPods are to wireless earphones what the iPod was to portable music players 15+ years ago — an iconic product that has pretty much defined an entire category. Sure, there were a couple of models of “true wireless” earbuds before AirPods came along, but much like the DAPs of the pre-iPod era, they were poorly-executed niche products that were barely noticed except by those on the bleeding edge of tech.
Then along came Apple’s AirPods, the product that almost every iPhone user wants to have, and that every other earphone wants to be. We already saw earlier this month that Amazon has plans for its own Alexa wireless earbuds, and now it looks like Microsoft is going to be the next big challenger to throw its hat into the ring.
According to Thurrott, Microsoft is developing a pair of earbuds under its Surface brand as a follow-up to last year’s headphones. Citing multiple sources, Thurrott notes that Microsoft is already working on the earbuds under the code name “Morrison” — a seemingly atypical code name for a Microsoft product, but one that lines up with the “Joplin” codename for its prior Surface Headphones. “Joplin” could have referred to either Scott Joplin or, more likely, Janis Joplin, while “Morrison” almost certainly refers to former Doors lead singer Jim Morrison.
The final name for the product is not yet clear, although Thurrott adds that “Surface Buds” is one suggestion that has come to light, and Microsoft is expected to tie its new earbuds into Cortana, in a similar manner to how Apple’s AirPods now support “Hey Siri” and Amazon is expected to offer Alexa support in its version.
One unique feature that Microsoft is rumoured to be working on is “a way to improve interactions between a phone and the earbuds to make reading content easier,” although it’s anybody’s guess as to exactly what this could mean.
Of course, as with Amazon’s attempt, it’s unclear how well Microsoft will be actually be able to pull this off. The earbuds themselves aren’t expected to include any particularly special wireless technology beyond basic Bluetooth, and will still need a paired phone — and likely the Cortana app — to actually interact with the voice assistant. Since Apple doesn’t make it particularly easy for third-party voice assistants to be triggered, the company’s own AirPods are still going to have the home-field advantage for iPhone users.
Perhaps ironically, Microsoft was also behind one of the most infamous competitors to Apple’s iPod — the Microsoft Zune, with which is also sold its own earbuds back in the day. This means that unlike Amazon, Microsoft has at least some background in this area, but we’re still expecting the company’s “Surface Buds” will remain a fairly niche product that, as the branding implies, will be primarily of interest to users of Microsoft’s Surface tablets. Microsoft Surface Headphones were released to favourable reviews last year, but didn’t really stand out in a headphone market that’s already dominated by the likes of Beats, Bose, and Sony.