How the Industry has changed
When I stop and actually think about it, headphones and earbuds have been an important part of my life. Regardless of which device they were attached to, they have always enabled me to lose myself in a good audiobook or one of my favorite albums while I go about my day completing a range of tasks. Frankly, my life would be less entertaining without them and I’d arguably be a much less well-rounded person.
Technology has evolved and as a result, so have headphones and earphones. These changes have had a drastic impact on my listening habits and the habits of others. Interestingly I’ve also found myself favoring one over the other and then switched back again over the years.
Like so many other people in the 90s, I owned a Walkman with a large pair of headphones. While both devices were too bulky to carry around with me, they did often make an appearance on long car journeys, making these journeys more enjoyable. I remember listening to my Dad’s Aerosmith cassettes and Sherlock Holmes or Narnia stories on tape.
These headphones would certainly be considered retro in 2019 but in 1997 they were very special. As I live in a rather cold climate their ear muff’ style kept my ears warm too, although walking to school with these large items often got problematic.
The Rise of Earphones and Earbuds
These habits carried on well into high school, but by this time portable CD players had replaced cassette players. I still used headphones (albeit a smaller pair) but was noticing more and more of my peers switching to earphones, two little individual speakers that fit snuggly into your ears.
These felt alien to me at first, but by the time I was 15 and had bought my first MP3 player, earphones had become the standard. They were small and unobtrusive; I could walk anywhere using them without looking silly. My MP3 player was also tiny and for the first time in my life I could carry my favorite music anywhere I wanted. I felt revolutionary and a far cry away from the large Walkman with headphones I had grown up with.
Headphones fell out of fashion; they now appeared large and clunky and became a pretty rare sight. Anyone seen walking through a city, walking a dog or jogging in a pair of headphones raised eyebrows.
They were replaced by something that becomes much more popular and has only recently started to be perceived as antiquated. This, of course, was the white earphones that were everywhere in the 2000s and beyond.
Popularized by the early iPods it becomes an incredibly common sight to see people going about their business with a pair of white wires leading down from their ears. It’s still a common sight today, but once again change is afoot.
In 2021 what’s convenient and indeed what’s fashionable has changed again, and believe it or not, headphones have started to make a comeback. We believe there are a few reasons why this is happening; let’s break them down:
Bluetooth Grows in Popularity
So Bluetooth isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. It’s actually been around since the late 1980s but didn’t become well known until the 2000s. Bluetooth takes advantage of short wave wireless technology, allowing data to pass between one device to another over a short distance without a noticeable reduction in quality.
At first, it was only bundled with the fanciest cell phones and audio devices but soon became most well known, especially for Bluetooth headsets and car hands-free kits. In time this has morphed into different companies offering wireless headphones as an alternative to wired earphones and surprisingly, lots of people have opted for this.
It also seems that success breeds success and the more people wearing wireless headphones in public has inspired even more to do the same, changing the trend once again.
Apple Abandoning the Headphone Port
This was a controversial decision by Apple but the tech giant stuck to their guns. It’s ironic that the very same company that made white wired earphones such a popular and iconic piece of kit would be the ones to also bring about their demise. But the march of progress cannot be halted and this is something Apple is usually at the forefront of.
Where a cynical view of Apple’s decision would be the company simply wanted to create a problem so they could sell the solution. In their defense, Apple bundled every iPhone 7 (and every one since) with a headphone adapter.
This allows users to still use their wired headphones if they wish, all they need to do is plug the jack into a 2-inch long piece of wire that then connects to the iPhone’s lightning port.
Apple was also ahead of the curve and was well aware of the rise of Bluetooth and changes to people’s habits. As they haven’t yet released a phone or audio device since with a headphone dock, it’s safe to say Apple knew exactly what they were doing.
Advancements in Mobile Platforms and Listening Habits
More and more people are using increasingly sophisticated mobile devices. iPads and other tablets play a range of media which they will use in an out of the home. Being able to put on a pair of wireless headphones and lose yourself in a movie or audiobook is a pastime many people now take advantage of.
Doing so without wires is much more comfortable, especially if the user is curled up in bed. Having the device paired with a snug pair of wireless headphones is much more ideal. This also applies to mobile gaming platforms too, where wires have a tendency to get in the way.
Please review some of our other headphone articles like “What Are Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones?” and “Introduction To Bluetooth Wireless Technology For Seniors”
Beats and Fashion
There seems to be a direct correlation between the rise of wireless headphones and the release of Apple (formerly Dre) Beats. Wireless headphones have existed for some time thanks to Bluetooth, but although useful they weren’t considered particularly comfortable to move around in, or particularly fashionable to be seen in.
As we said above, they looked clunky and ungainly. Beats changed this; they became sleek, eye-catching and stylish. The brand (and their imitators) soon caught the public’s attention and have been a popular sight ever since.
Beats are now considered a fashionable accessory and when used in conjunction with mobile devices, such as modern iPhones using Bluetooth, is also an ideal way to listen to audio in and out of the home.
Convenience Now and in the Future
Now I’ve gone completely full circle and exclusively use wireless headphones. I own a pair of Beats for when I’m out and about. These are light, cool and feel incredibly comfortable; they also kick out extremely good quality audio.
I use them in the gym, walking my dog and pretty much anywhere else I can get away with using them, as they are so convenient. While I still love music and audiobooks in my thirties just as much as I did when I was young, my new great love is podcasts.
My Beats have made my podcast listening habits so much easier and I get through more of my favorites than I ever did before owning them. They sync straight to my phone and the battery life is fantastic.
In order to extend the battery life even longer, I bought a second pair of wireless headphones, but these are not Apple Beats. Instead, I bought a pair of noise-canceling Skull Candy headphones. Amazingly these large headphones remind me of my old bulky ones I had as a child, although like my Beats they are totally wireless.
They are perhaps the most comfortable pair of headphones I’ve ever owned but due to their size, I only tend to use them on long journeys (such as long-haul flights) or when I’m at home.
As my friend loves reality TV and I can’t stand it, my Skull Candy headphones noise-canceling features help me totally zone out and watch my favorite streaming services, or listen to an audiobook, hearing only the audio that I want to hear. I don’t have them connected to my phone but to my iPad, although I could hook them up to more devices if I chose too.
The winds of change are blowing once again although this time in a new direction. Earphones are now catching back up with headphones, taking advantage of the same wireless technology that skyrocketed headphones back to popularity.
Wireless earphones; known as Earbuds’ are appearing in more and more places. Look around your local gym and at runners in your local park, it won’t take long until you see someone using a pair. Once again Apple seems to have noticed this trend and have released their own earbuds that have named AirPods.
Initially, I had reservations about earbuds, due to them being very small I was worried I may lose them, also would such a small item be capable of sustained battery life? Upon further research, however, my concerns have been alleviated. Most earbuds come with a secure case where they can be safely stored when not in use, and the battery life is comparable to that of wireless headphones.
I must confess that my interest is piqued, especially for AirPods, Apple hasn’t let me down yet. But neither have many other brands. Perhaps I owe it to myself to investigate and experience yet another revolution in listening habits. I must also admit that I’m very excited to see where we go from here.