AirPods Pro Follow Up, Apple and Housing, Surface Pro X Reviews

AirPods Pro Follow Up
Now that I’ve been using the AirPods Pro for about a week, I wanted to share a few follow up thoughts worth mentioning. The first point is about AirPods Pro vs. more expensive over the ear ANC headphones like the Bose Quiet Comfort or Sony models.

If you read much of the commentary from most reviewers, they are comparing AirPods Pro to much more expensive over the ear headphones with active noise canceling. Which, I think, is fair game because if someone is actively looking to buy active noise-canceling headphones, they are going to look at the Bose and Sony models since most believe they are the bar to measure. Just look at any flight you may be on, and you mostly see over-the-ear headphones generally from Bose or Sony. Until now, they were the best options available but come at the cost of $349.

While it is a fair game to compare the noise canceling, that feature alone is not how I think about the buying decision between AirPods Pro and one of those models. However, the fact that most reviewers are comparing AirPods Pro to higher-end active noise-canceling headphones is amazing in its own right, particularly when many of them are impressed by how close AirPods Pro comes to the higher end Bose and Sony’s.

While I have not been on a plane yet, I will test that later this week. I did run some tests in my car, driving with the windows down at higher speeds. In this test, the AirPods Pro performed on par with my Bose QC 35II and my Sony noise-canceling headphones. While others still think overall, the Bose and Sony’s filter out more noise consensus is it is very close. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few more thoughts when comparing.

The first is the portability. Both my Bose and Sony’s are quite large, and their carrying case takes up a lot of space in my carry on. This is a huge advantage or AirPods Pro in that they are extremely easy to carry and much more portable. While I have the luxury of owning all these pairs of headphones, most do not, and the daily comfort and use, as well as portability, gives them a huge advantage.

The other area AirPods Pro have competitors beat hands down is transparency mode. Not only does transparency mode work better, but getting to transparency mode is quite a bit easier than other headphones. The ease of use comes both with how easy it is to press and hold the bottom of the AirPod’s Pro but how AirPods feel like they completely disappear in this mode. This is not the case with over the ear headphones that feel quite awkward in transparency mode. Oddly, I feel like I could leave AirPods Pro in my ears all the time on transparency mode and forget they are in. That is not the case with over-the-ear solutions.

Lastly, when you look at all those pros for the AirPods in comfort, portability, ease of use, and that they are $100 cheaper than the Bose and Sony’s AND the ANC is very close I think if you are in the market for noise-canceling headphones you can argue AirPods Pro is the best value for the money.

Apple Commits to Silicon Valley’s Housing Crisis
Apple announced yesterday they are committing $2.5 billion to the Silicon Valley housing crisis.

Apple, among other tech giants located here in the valley, is committing resources to help build more affordable housing. I commend this effort, and it is needed desperately. That being said, I’m not sure just more affordable housing alone is enough. It is absolutely too expensive for many to live in the valley. We have teachers, police and fire, and entire non-tech industries who find it too expensive to live in the Bay Area. But unless we have a sweeping change in the overall housing pricing market, I’m not sure how much good will happen.

Something I think every tech company concerned about this should equally if not more, invest in is remote work. Interestingly, most companies are not yet fully embracing video conferencing as a part of enabling remote work. This became clear with some stats that came out of Zoomtopia, Zoom’s user conference, where it was revealed that the average enterprise has less than 5% of their conference rooms set up as remote work huddle rooms.

Some of Zoom’s customers shared with us, at the conference, how transformative becoming a video-first company has been for how they work and even how they think about real-estate. The CTO of a large health care company said that they went from less than 10% of video calls to now over 90% in less than two years and that transformation has fundamentally changed how they think about work.

The more I dug into how video calls are being used, and when, the more clear it became to me that we are in the first inning of collaboration hardware and software and represents the biggest potential shift for the modern enterprise. As companies embrace remote work, video collaboration along with real-time software tools to make true remote work and remote collaboration as good as being in the same place then working from any place in the world becomes truly possible for anyone. This would have the most positive impact on solving housing, traffic, and a host of other problems coming from tech companies being concentrated in specific areas of the country.

Surface Pro X Reviews
Reviews of Microsoft’s Surface Pro X came out today, and they have been mixed. I also have a Surface Pro X and have been using it a bit the last week as a part of some of my workflows.

The reviewers love the design of Surface Pro X and the hardware/pen overall, and to that, I agree. Reviews are also focusing on Surface Pro X as a device that compares with a traditional laptop where more high-end work is being done. Essentially, reviewers are making a bit of a mistake the same way they do with iPad when looking at it through the lens of a workhorse laptop vs. one an ultra-portable computer that is entirely sufficient for all types of tasks and workflows that a highly mobile worker would do.

This gets a bit more tricky with a machine running Windows, in my opinion, because the expectation of Windows will be that it can do everything all other Windows machines should do. This is not something iPad necessarily gets into in most consumer mindsets because iOS, while capable, doesn’t carry with it the same legacy as something like Mac OS and Windows does from a laptop/desktop standpoint.

The big question for everyone who has used Surface Pro X is how this co-designed processor between Microsoft and Qualcomm will perform. In my own usage of Surface Pro X, all the normal things I do run as expected. I did not use Chrome, which the reviewers said felt slow and laggy, but this also points to why Microsoft’s new Edge browser is so important strategically to the Windows ecosystem.

While the expectation of battery life is one thing pushed hard with Arm-based devices, the SQ1 processor is throttled to 3Ghz, so I personally was not expecting the same battery life being seen in other Arm-based machines that can push 20 hours plus. That being said, the reports that only 6 hours of use is happening is not a good sign, but software updates can fix this. If Surface Pro X can deliver the 13 hours all-day battery life and users buy into the connected story, then this product will deliver for the type of customer it is targeting.

Complaints about the price are fair, given it competes with other X86 based products in a similar 2-1 form factor that is competitively priced and would run into no app compatibility issues. But, here in the hardware design and connected story come only from being able to run an Arm processor so people who want the thinnest and lightest 2-1 Windows PC are likely to consider the Pro X.

Overall, the continued competitive landscape of computers is at all-time highs, and more options than ever are available to consumers. This also demonstrates the high level of maturity of the market and why companies have to work harder than ever to gain mindshare with consumers and business buyers alike.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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