Here at Snug we’re always thinking about how to make Snug better for our customers. A big part of that is thinking about how devices such as the Watch, AirPods, or Echo, are being used so that we can appropriately connect Snug to them.

September 10, 2019 — Apple announces the always on, Series 5, Apple Watch. But on September 7, 2016, Apple set the wheels in motion for the always off, screenless, iPhone. The AirPods. 

My prediction: We will get to a set of AirPods that are independently connected via cellular radio by the end of 2021. 

We believe in a wireless future. A future where all of your devices intuitively connect.” — Jony Ive

Apple has demonstrated this pattern twice before now — with the iPad and the Apple Watch. The first iPad had both a WiFi-only option and a WiFi + Cellular option when introduced (2010). The first Apple Watch was tethered to the phone but the Series 3 created the option for an independent Cellular connection. Each of those devices was built to enable a particular use case, just like the AirPods.

This is part of Apple’s bigger strategy evolution from being just about the iPhone to a set of services and complementary devices.

Apple is already foreshadowing these plans already in terms of the AirPods physical design, economics, and software features. 

Physical Design

Physically, the AirPods already have room for a cellular radio. The AirPods carrying case is bigger than the Apple Watch Series 5’s casing. Keep in mind that the Watch is already capable of an independent cellular connection. 

Watch specs: 44mm x 10.7mm x 38mm 

Carrying case specs: 44.3mm x 21.3mm x 53.5mm

Economics

A new iPhone 11, not the Pro, will retail for $699.

A Series 5 Apple Watch with Cellular Connection is $499. Without cellular, $399.

AirPods are $199. If they had an independent, cellular connection, they would probably be $349. 

AirPods + Series 5 with Cellular = $699.

Taken from the Apple Website — clearly they see these two going together

The two specialty devices that complement each other cost the same together as the general purpose iPhone. The main job the iPhone will do much better is that of taking photos — and it’s then no surprise that Apple keeps investing in improved photo technology. Such as the three cameras in the iPhone 11 Pro. 

Software

To serve as an independent device, or a phone, the AirPods need an input interface for a user to invoke varied commands to serve their needs. On March 20, 2019, ‘Hey Siri’ was announced for the AirPods 2 along with the H1 chip — an enhanced, embedded processor. 

So now the AirPods have power via battery, the ability to input commands via Siri, the ability to provide the user feedback via audio, and they have the physical space in the carrying case to embed a cellular radio. Add the radio and the AirPods now can be an independent, screenless device. Doesn’t seem like much of a leap. 

When this happens, and done well, habits could be formed around first saying ‘Hey Siri’ instead of saying ‘Ok, Google’ or ‘Alexa’. This is because the AirPods will always be with you as your light, screenless iPhone.


“We believe in a wireless future. A future where all of your devices intuitively connect.” — Jony Ive

Apple clearly has been thinking ahead in their strategy. They have planned for this transition from the iPhone, the one device to rule them all, to multiple devices with key purposes. That’s why more of the innovation is happening with device differentiation (example: more Cameras for iPhone). Each device operates and is valuable independently, like the AirPods soon will be, but they are all better together.

While it might look desperate, more Cameras deepen a key part of the iPhone’s value prop.

Apple’s strategy increasingly looks to be 1) building the best devices to serve your foundational needs and 2) delivering services that are optimized for you to best use those devices. The two reinforce each other’s value as the service can’t exist without the device, and the device’s potential is only fully realized with the services. The same is true for Apple’s business. The device creates the sale, but the services create the lock-in and the subsequent revenue. 

Each device has a key job and there’s a key service that’s the unlock.

For AirPods — The job is listening and communicating. The key services are Apple Music and Siri.

For Apple Watch —The job is keeping you healthy. The key service is Apple Health.

For iPhone — the job is being your singular hub that persists your digital life. The key services are the App Store, FaceTime, and Photos.

For iPad — the job is being your in-depth media consumption and manipulation device. The key services are Notes, but it’s also probably TV+ and Arcade. 

For MacBook — the job is doing work. The key service for this one is interesting because the MacBook still fits into a larger PC-world with other applications. I’d say the two services are the Mac App Store, to leverage productivity apps, but also Continuity so that users can leverage all their other devices with the Macbook.

Further, each device reinforces the other, creating an experience where you want to use Apple products for all needs in your connected life. Between valuable devices that have to be replaced and valuable services that have subscriptions, maybe the right way to think about Apple is a business that receives $1,000/year from 500M people for all of their connected devices. That’s a very big business serving a lot of people.


In conclusion, I believe Apple is in the middle of executing their strategy of transitioning from one main device to a series of must-have devices that complement each other. The AirPods are already a must-have accessory to the iPhone. Soon, in 2021, the AirPods will be independent — able to act as the screenless iPhone and as an independent complement to the Watch. 

Preet Anand, President and Director of Product of Snug