AirPods Are Apple’s Next Big Brand
The new AirPods Max are more than new headphones—they’re a coronation of a core brand
Never underestimate the value of a good brand. With the all-new AirPods Max, Apple has christened AirPods as a core brand on almost equal footing with its iconic Mac line.
Think about it. While AirPods Max Bluetooth headphones may have the same H1 audio beating heart as AirPods Pro (and, not coincidentally, Apple’s Beats Solo Pro), they look nothing like a pair of AirPods. Sure, AirPods Max are an audio product, but these are not pods. In fact, in the industry, we traditionally refer to over-the-ear headphones as “cans.”
There’s nothing wrong with Apple slapping the AirPods brand name on its newest audio product. It makes perfect sense for the company to officially position “AirPods” as a crucial brand—one that, like the Mac before it, is more of an idea than a fixed thing or concrete look and feel. Macs, after all, range from a tiny boxlike device (the Mac Mini) to all-in-one devices like the iMac to the hulking art deco Mac Pro. Like the AirPods line, Macs feature the same core technology: macOS and, until very recently, Intel CPUs.
As they say on The Mandalorian, “This is the way.” It’s how Apple builds on an idea whose success may have caught even the company by surprise. When I wrote a few years ago that AirPods are now one of Apple’s most important products, I wasn’t kidding. After initially being derided for their oddball looks, the in-ear Bluetooth buds caught the buying public’s imagination in an almost original iPhone–like way.
The brand is so important that AirPods Max got Apple’s most interesting and forward-learning design in a generation, pulling in some of the company’s favorite materials—anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and Apple-designed stitched fabric—and combining it with new materials like memory foam and flexible mesh. It’s even a place for Apple to crossbreed design and functionality concepts: AirPods Max feature a digital crown based on the same one you have on your Apple Watch.
The most oddball feature might be the Smart Case, which turns your headphones into a sort of tiny handbag in which the…