Alongside the reveal of the iPhone 7 earlier this year, Apple also unveiled a new pair of wireless in-ears, dubbed the AirPods. These were originally set to ship in October, but just before the end of the month, the company delayed the launch, saying it needed a little more time. What the company conspicuously didn’t address was when the true wireless in-ears would ship.
Last month, fans were heartened when Apple CEO Tim Cook appeared to have responded to an email from an exasperated customer with a clue at when the AirPods might ship. “Thanks for your note,” the email read. “Sorry for the delay — we are finalizing them and I anticipate we will begin to ship over the next few weeks.”
Unfortunately, this is seeming less and less likely. While Apple didn’t say what the issue behind the delay was, we might finally have a clue. The problem lies in Apple’s difficulties in ensuring that the Bluetooth signal is arriving at both AirPods at the same time, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cites people familiar with the earbuds’ development.
In general, other true wireless earbuds have one earbud receive the Bluetooth signal, then transmit the signal to the other with varrying degrees of success. Apple is using a different approach. The company has previously said that each AirPod receives its own signal from the source. While this has its advantages, including the promise of better stability, as well as the ability to use one or both earbuds seamlessly for music playback and calling, it seems it is also presenting problems.
The Airpods use the new W1 chip announced alongside their unveiling, reportedly responsible for allowing the earbuds to receive Bluetooth to both sides from a single source, as well as allowing for long-lasting battery life. The Beats Solo3 and Powerbeats3 — both of which use the W1 chip — managed to ship on time and without issue, but neither of those products communicates with the source the same way that the AirPods do.
While some outlets have had hands-on time with the AirPods and haven’t reported major issues, the problem must be significant enough that Apple skipped the vast majority of the holiday shopping season — at the very least. For the time being, when the AirPods will actually be released remains a mystery.
Story originally published in October 2016. Updated on 11/30/2016 by Kris Wouk: Added possible cause of the AirPods’ delay.