White Freebuds 3 and AirPods Pro on a red background

Both earbuds have sensors on the inside and outside that allow them to auto-pause when one is removed from your ear.

The AirPods battery life problem is the norm among many true wireless earbuds.

When, I think true wireless earbuds, the first product I picture are the Apple AirPods. These earbuds share the same battery life as other true wireless earbuds, and all models suffer from the same problem: a very short life cycle. Why is that? After all, you could be spending upwards of $200 on your earphones; well, this pervasive problem is because of how the charging cases operate. The batteries are constantly being charged and depleted, which shortens the lifespan of those teeny-tiny battery cells. Let’s see if there’s anything you can do to prevent this, and how companies are addressing it — if at all.

Editor’s note: this article was updated on June 23, 2020, to address iOS 14 and how it will improve and extend all the battery life of all AirPods models.

Battery problems are nothing new in the tech industry

Let’s turn our attention to 2017, when Apple iPhone battery issues took the world by storm. Apple even went so far as to heavily discount battery replacement services for anyone owning an iPhone 6 or later. Believe it or not, it’s not just Apple that had battery issues: Samsung faced a flaming debacle back in 2017 when its Samsung Galaxy Note 7 had a nasty tendency of spontaneously combusting.

Of course, it isn’t always this extreme. People often say, “it’s no built how it used to be,” as a way of citing planned obsolescence as a consumer woe. Sometimes this means reports of easy screen cracking, loose headphone jacks, or frayed cables. Well, today, with true wireless earbuds, it means a very short life cycle.

Why don’t true wireless batteries last?

An aerial picture of the JLab JBuds Air Icon true wireless earbuds in the charging case.

They’re just too small. From our smartphones to our headphones, our lives run on lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries, but with both of those products, there’s ample room to pack in a large battery cell. Although li-ion technology is efficient, it can’t nullify the fact that, in this case, size does matter.

It's not just AirPods; true wireless earbuds just don't have as long of a lifespan as wireless headphones.

With regards to the AirPods battery life, or any true wireless earbuds’ battery life for that matter, the li-ion cell capacity is markedly smaller than those found in our smartphones.

Take the Creative Outlier Gold, it’s a modern wonder that these earbuds last 10.3 hours on a single charge of two 80mAh cells. To put it into perspective: the Samsung Galaxy S10 has a 3,400mAh capacity. But, the problem isn’t so much standalone battery life anymore, rather product longevity. Time will tell how the Creative Outlier Gold’s battery life performs over the years, but the constant charging and depletion cycle that it’s subjected to will likely see a demise similar to the original AirPods.

How to preserve your headset’s battery life

If you know you’re only listening to your earbuds in short bursts, storing the earbuds outside of the case when inactive could keep their batteries in better health over the long run. This isn’t ideal, but it is possible: I do so with the Jaybird Vista by manually powering the buds off and placing them in a bowl with my keys and other to-go items. Now, this does seem to defeat the purpose of the charging case as an object that doubles as a storage unit, but again, it’s worth it if you want your earphones to last. That is, until companies release software updates that intelligently charge true wireless earbuds.

What are companies doing to improve product lifespans?

Apple WWDC 2020 AIRPOD transitions

So far, only one company has come out to address the constant charge-deplete cycle perpetuated by true wireless charging cases: Apple. At WWDC 2020, iOS 14 features were announced, many of which make marked improvements to the AirPods and AirPods Pro. Among these improvements is Optimized Battery Charging. Apple stated that the AirPods will learn each user’s charging routine. The headset will communicate with the case to hold off on charging past 80%  until needed. In turn, this new process will hopefully lengthen the life cycle of iOS users’ AirPods.

Hopefully, we’ll begin to see other household names follow suit like Sony, Samsung, and Jabra. If we’re expected to pay hundreds of dollars for a headset, it shouldn’t be radical to expect said product to last more than two years.

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