How some features in Apple’s AirPods Max are a huge game changer and seamlessly fit into the workflows of VoiceOver users

Many articles have been written about how the AirPods max sound, good or bad, this post isn’t at all about that.

Some times there is a feature in a product that flies under most of our radars. For most of us, this feature is either never used or never thought about. For some though, it is a huge game changer the rest of us will never fully realize. People who design such features totally deserve a raise, and when these features are revealed more to those who don’t benefit from them it helps us all think beyond our narrow use cases. When we all design anything outside of our own experiences, situations we as individuals may never even know about may be made easier for others.

I’ve used headsets by Aftershokz, Sony and others, and I had to turn them on before they’re up and running. When most headsets get turned on, they play a message about the model and battery level, so the person is forced to wait several seconds probably 5-10 for them to start working. I know it’s nice to know what the battery percentage is, but there are other ways.

The AirPods Max work completely different. When I put them on they make that connect sound and they’re up and running. When I take them off, they pause any audio playing, and all audio goes back to the phone speaker. With other brands of headsets, if I take them off audio is paused, but unless I physically turn them off, VoiceOver is still in the headset; which can cause frustration when trying to use the phone and I’ve walked into another room from where I left the headset I just took off. Yes, they will turn off in 5 minutes, (not all of them) for a screen reader user this is a huge annoyance.

Another nice touch in all AirPods models is there is an iconic low battery sound that gets played whenever they are engaged when the battery is less than ten percent; unless in the case of the AirPods Max when they’re plugged in charging. Also, the connect sound when you put them on is skipped if you put them on while audio is already playing out the phone speaker, like VoiceOver. The audio just seamlessly switches to the AirPods.

This might seem like niceties for most people who aren’t screen reader users, but for at least me, and I suspect others, it’s a huge game changer. When I use my Aftershokz waiting for them to finish their spiel annoys me almost as much as awaiting a package to arrive, and when I forget to turn them off after taking them off, that can leave me confused as well.

I wrote last fall about Live Text in iOS 15, that started out as super expensive solution for blind people reading print books. What some consider only an accessibility feature but useless for them, might be indescribably awesome for others. I’ve been on beta teams for software and someone suggests a feature that I couldn’t even begin to imagine who I would ever need it, but I’ve matured, and now understand just because I wouldn’t ever use it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help someone else in a big way.

Things to consider the next time any of us design something new. Probably sooner than later, there will be a person using  the product who uses or would like to use that product in ways the inventor would never have thought of.


Oh, one more thing. Nothing is lost without headsets playing their battery level messages, both iOS and Android can display widgets that show the batteries of Bluetooth accessories like headphones, so knowing how charged they are is still totally possible and easy to find out.

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