“Apple has turned from offensive to defensive.” Regarding the newly released AirPods 3, Zou Lin, a veteran of the TWS industry for a long time, made this comment. The reason, he said, “As more and more players squeeze into the TWS track, Apple AirPods shipments and market share are declining.”
That being said-but in the fierce and even fierce TWS battlefield, although there are many players and all the big names, Apple is still the one that attracts the most attention, and its advantages are still strong.
TWS hardware engineer Zhe Kai told Lei Feng.com that domestic TWS headsets have not yet posed a threat to AirPods. Even AirPods 3, which do not have the noise reduction function, have their own unique features.
If other manufacturers want to copy homework, I’m afraid they won’t be able to copy it either.
Entering TWS is a big bet by Apple
Smart players are good at winning the battlefield; but more smart players are good at opening up a new battlefield.
In the TWS battlefield, Apple is a pioneer.
But in fact, Apple is not the first player to make TWS products. “Before Apple launched the TWS headset, the industry knew that the TWS headset would be the next generation product, and some manufacturers started to get involved, but at that time it was not called TWS by the name.” Dashi Technology founder and CEO Li Haoqian told Leifeng.com.
For example, the headset Dash headphone launched by the German start-up BRAGI is a TWS headset that appeared on the market two years earlier than AirPods. This headset was launched on the kickstarer platform by way of online crowdfunding, and has attracted a lot of attention. Next, 3.39 million US dollars were raised within one and a half months.
However, only the entry of Apple AirPods can make TWS formally an industry.
“If true wireless headsets were not led by Apple, it would be difficult for the TWS industry to have the grand occasion it is today.” Liu Weizhi, product director of pressure-sensitive touch sensor company Niuderui TWS, said to Lei Feng.
Specifically, companies set up projects, small companies seek survival, and large companies have different strategies. The original intentions and play styles are different. For a large company like Apple that does not need to worry about survival, it is not important to be a pioneer.
“For a company, there are usually three priorities for project selection. The first is the project that allows the company to survive, the second is the project that meets the company’s strategy, and the last is the project that can make money. Apple has no survival problems and recognizes wearable devices. It is the future trend, and headphones are a major link that cannot be bypassed, so Apple will choose to cut into TWS headphones from a strategic point of view.” Li Haoqian analyzed to Leifeng.com.
A former Apple employee once used “the logic of robbery” to explain the logic of Apple’s new project establishment: either do not rob, or if you want to rob, you can even bring the goods. Projecting on the market means following three major principles: First, the application market is large enough, second, to achieve a monopoly position if there is no monopoly, and third, to stop pre-research immediately if there is no monopoly.
Because of this, Apple will be extremely cautious before cutting into the project from strategy, and will spend hundreds of millions of yuan to hire a third-party research, and finally the Apple board of directors will decide whether to approve the project. Once the project is approved, tens of billions of dollars will be invested in product research and development.
With regard to the ecological layout and sufficient pre-research before the project is established, Apple not only has to do TWS headsets, but also has to work hard to do it.
Therefore, for Apple, entering TWS is essentially a gamble.
This is also the reason why the product experience was very mature when Apple launched the first generation of AirPods in 2016-after the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro, Apple is ineducateWhile the market and the entire industry continue to optimize and expand this category-this is how AirPods Max is available.
It is worth mentioning that Apple’s emphasis on the ecological construction of wearable devices is also reflected in its internal staff changes and performance growth.
A former Apple R&D employee once revealed to the media that Apple’s layout in recent yearscell phoneThere are fewer and fewer R&D personnel on the Internet, and more R&D efforts are placed on Apple Watch and AirPods.
As a work of art, AirPods are
How is it made?
Apple AirPods series products are more like works of art.
This is Liu Weizhi’s high evaluation of AirPods. He said, “If you disassemble the AirPods series of products, you can find that the overall internal layout is more compact and exquisite, and the consideration is very thoughtful.”
A similar evaluation also appeared in Li Haoqian’s mouth: In his opinion, human-friendly engineering design, agile interactive control and size limits are the highlights of AirPods. “Apple may not be the best at performance parameters, but it has a very in-depth study of user experience.”
So, what effort did Apple make in the process of building AirPods?
Generally speaking, when designing TWS headsets, manufacturers will first consider how to better achieve ergonomics. Lightweight is the key to achieving ergonomics, and then consider how to stack devices to achieve all functions on this basis. This means that wearing a comfortable TWS headset seems simple and not much different, but in fact there is a hidden mystery in the device layout.
In fact, carefully compare the appearance of AirPods 1, 2 and Pro versions. The first and second generations use a semi-in-ear design with a longer headphone handle. The Pro version uses a full-ear design with a larger cavity. The first two generations are shorter-if you disassemble the three generations of AirPods, the battery, chip design and layout are different.
For example, AirPods 1st and 2nd generation products use cylindrical batteries, and the Pro version uses button batteries, and the placement position is also moved from the earphone handle to the earphone head.
“Using button batteries and placing them in the headphone head, the current TWS headsets are basically moving in this direction. This is the best TWS headset battery solution at present, with safety, guaranteed performance and low price.” Li Haoqian said.
Compared with cylindrical batteries, button batteries have a higher capacity density, which can provide as much battery capacity as possible in a compact space, and there is no bulge during charging and discharging-but providing more power is not a change for Apple The main reason for button batteries.
Li Haoqian told Leifeng.com that there are no new features for the 1st and 2nd generation AirPods. The battery is placed in the headphone handle or the headphone head. It does not matter much, but the Pro version adds the ANC active noise reduction function, which realizes the microphone with noise reduction function. There are requirements for position placement, which requires sufficient space in the earphone handle. It is a good way to move the battery position.
Specifically, in order to achieve ANC double-feed noise reduction, three microphones need to be placed in the headset, and a distance of at least 2 cm between each microphone must be left. If it is less than 2 cm, the call effect will be worse. The three microphones of AirPods Pro are placed on the lower end of the headphone handle and on both sides of the headphone head.
In addition to the battery, AirPods Pro also uses the System in Package (SiP) technology used in the Apple Watch series in order to save the internal space of the headset.
SiP is summarized in the ranks of advanced packaging technology, design ideas can be traced back to the 1980s, can refer to the combination of chips, can also refer to the method of combining different chip modules into electronic systems or subsystems-for Apple This not only requires it to fully understand such technology, but also requires Apple to establish close cooperation with packaging manufacturers.
From a cost perspective, using SiP is certainly more expensive.
The advantage is that the SiP package combines many discrete components in a package system, which can save space on the circuit board and has good reliability. This also means that the main control chip in AirPods Pro occupies less space and reserves more space for new functions.
The internal structure of a white-brand TWS headset
Liu Weizhi also revealed a device stacking detail. The Apple AirPods series products only use one panel to gather various components.HuaweiAs represented by many domestic TWS headset products, the assembly method of the front and rear panels is commonly used.
This is why Liu Weizhi believes that AirPods are works of art at the structural engineering level.
Why don’t other TWS players copy homework?
Although AirPods are good, they are really expensive-this leaves plenty of room for other players on the TWS battlefield.
So for a while, Google, Huawei,Millet,OPPO,aliveManufacturers such as Sony and BOSE have all joined the TWS battlefield. In 3 to 4 years, four camps have been formed: mobile phone brands, traditional audio brands, e-commerce brands, and white labels, trying to carve up the market outside of AirPods, and even begin to erode its market share.
Each of these four camps has its own characteristics. Audio manufacturers emphasize sound quality, e-commerce and white-label profitability, and slow response Android mobile phone manufacturers are not willing to continue to lag behind in the wearable device ecology, but also want to share in the TWS market. A cup of pie.
But the problem is that Apple AirPods are unwilling to copy, and they can’t copy.
“In fact, domestic mobile phone manufacturers are also deploying headsets in the field of wearable devices, but they may not have more funds to pay for their feelings.” Zhe Kai said: “So that domestic TWS headset manufacturers always compromise on cost performance.”
A qualified experience at a lower cost is more obvious in the engineering design that consumers can’t see. If you disassemble it, you can find that most TWS headsets have their main control chip placed in Multi-space headphone handle.
“This is because, with the exception of very few high-end products, domestic TWS headsets use PCB rigid boards for their circuit boards. Apple uses rigid-flex boards. Compared with rigid-flex boards, PCB rigid boards have a price advantage. “Another industry insider explained to Lei Feng.com.
For the same reason, when Apple was using SiP packaging, no other TWS headset followed up. An industry insider told Lei Feng.com that the SiP process has matured so far, and there is no too high technical threshold. In fact, many manufacturers are currently promoting the SiP process, especially some larger ODM manufacturers, hoping to make some SiP standard products. Sell to the brand side.
Brands still hold a wait-and-see attitude as to whether to use SiP packaging, and cost is the main concern.
“SiP process costs are relatively high, requiring a large investment in the early stage, and a larger shipment in the later stage to maintain profitability. Even if such a large cost price is paid in the early stage, the product differentiation may not be achieved in the later stage. They are all playing drums.” Li Haogan said.
Of course, in addition to the SiP process, the domestic TWS camp is not without progress.
For example, with the maturity and improvement of the domestic TWS headset supply chain, many core components, algorithms and solutions of TWS headsets have achieved domestic substitution. Take the core component main control chip in TWS headsets as an example. Many ANC function main control chips have been supplied and shipped in one or two years, and mobile phone manufacturers such as Huami OV have more choices in terms of cost performance.
However, Zhekai believes that the flagship product is to be a product that makes users who can’t afford it feel expensive and users who can afford it find it easy to use. “For users who really need it, the price/performance ratio is actually an insult.”
He said, “Although it is understandable for companies to chase profits in order to survive, I personally think that cost-effectiveness is too important. I think we still need to make some products that do not consider cost-effectiveness, but do not lose Apple in terms of experience. Huawei is here. The aspect is relatively positive, and other mobile phone manufacturers are quite suspicious of gimmicks.”
Lei Feng.com learned that Huawei FreeBus Pro headphones use a pressure-sensitive touch solution different from AirPods Pro, and even realize the function of adjusting the volume of the headphones by sliding up and down the headphone handle. AirPods using capacitive pressure-sensitive solutions cannot achieve this. One function.
In addition, the degree of self-research is another important dimension for judging the determination of TWS manufacturers to expand the wearable device ecology. On the surface, Huami OV, which is so popular, is far inferior to Apple in the degree of self-research of TWS solutions.
A TWS headset terminal industry insider revealed to Lei Feng.com that OPPO has the most TWS self-developed solutions. Vivo is almost all ODM solutions. Huawei’s flagship TWS products are self-developed. Among the TWS products shipped by Xiaomi, about 90% Of shipments are all using ODM solutions.
In essence, it is still a matter of strategy and investment priorities.
AirPods sit high-end, but it’s hard
One more family
Nevertheless, in the TWS market, Apple’s huge advantages in the past are also being constantly eroded.
According to relevant data, the shipment of AirPods in the second quarter of this year showed negative growth for the first time, and its market share in TWS was also below 30% for the first time.
Based on this background, the advent of AirPods 3 has caused a lot of controversy.
On the one hand, as the latest iterative product of the AirPods series in the past 6 years, AirPods 3 is not considered a pioneering and leading product in terms of functional experience. It supports spatial audio but does not have the noise reduction function. It is lower than the AirPods Pro released two years ago.
On the other hand, its price of 1399 yuan is quite pleasing to consumers-the previously released AirPods 2, when sold with the wireless charging box version, were priced at 1599 yuan.
In this regard, Zhe Kai told Lei Feng. “The Airpods 3 launched by Apple this time is actually an iterative upgrade of the first and second generations of AirPods. It is an update of the semi-in-ear product line. The AirPods Pro with noise reduction function is another one. All-in-ear product line.”
He believes that it is precisely because domestic TWS headsets have not yet posed a threat to AirPods, at least in terms of all-in-ear headsets, no other TWS product can beat Apple in quality, so Apple is not in a hurry to update the AirPods Pro product line.
So, when will the domestic TWS really challenge the Apple AirPods market?
Zhekai believes that it will take at least three years.
“As a person in the industry, I think that compared with Apple AirPods, there is really no one in the industry that can beat it. Domestic TWS has used 3 years to catch up with Apple’s noise reduction function, but it is still inferior. Now the wearing of AirPods 3 is here again. To the extreme, our ergonomic research is still far away.”
Perhaps after three years, Apple will have new growth, and there may be other gaps at that time.
But for the entire TWS market, the era when AirPods accounted for as much as 50% is gone.
Apple will still steadily occupy a certain proportion of the high-end market, but the price threshold of the entire market will become lower and lower. Mobile phone brands other than Apple will take advantage of brand and price advantages to occupy the middle and low-end markets, and squeeze white cards out of the market. .
“It is certain that the proportion of the mobile phone market in the future will radiate to the TWS headset industry to a certain extent,” Zhe Kai exclaimed.
Author | Wu You
Editor | Li Shuifei