per Horace Dediu

The Apple Watch now bigger than the iPod has ever been. As the most popular watch in history, of course, Watch is already a new story of market success. However, it is not a cultural success. It has the ability to show its presence and give the user a level of individuality through material and bracelet choices, but too discreet. It follows watch usage rules and is very easy to not notice under a sleeve or inside a pocket.

Not so much for the AirPods. This business has a very different look. Always white, always seen, pointed and sharp. You do not fail to notice someone using AirPods. They practically scream for your presence.

For this reason, users, whether they like it or not, make a strong advertisement for the product. Initially, when young, they looked strange, even ridiculous. But the value of the product to the user outweighed any shame and, for those brave enough to use them, they became a point of pride. Like all very distinct things, distinction is associated with the user, and this distinction attracts new and more distinguished users, and so on. So we have a, an authentic cultural phenomenon.

Both my son and my parents are crazy about getting these little things. I haven't noticed this universal appeal lately, even for Watch. You have to explain the clock. AirPods explain themselves. The only thing AirPods remind me of is the original iPod. The white-eared iPod had a similar recognition / function rate. different, works well, delivers what it promises and self explanatory. The "iconification" of white was the phenomenon of his decade.

You wonder how much of this behavior is designed or, more accurately, predicted by designers. Did Jony Ive's team think users would "brag" about their AirPods? Did they make them different on purpose with the little leg down instead of, for example, hiding it behind the ear for a discreet look? Was it just luck that the format followed the function? It's hard to imagine what taste can be planned, but here we are.

Whether this was planned or not, the new AirPods offer a functional upgrade without visual upgrade. This is remarkable because whatever worked out with the original design, they decided not to mess. You can't tell if anyone is using the latest AirPods or the originals.

As for the added features, it's typically Apple: faster connections thanks to a new chip, longer talk time, longer audio time, voice-activated Siri and wireless recharge. Roughly speaking, they are just better in ways that needed to be better and not better in ways that are already good enough.

The product is part of Apple's "wearable" category, which includes the watch and is growing almost 50% a year, and this without coming from a small base. The following chart shows the segment's history since 2009 (before the iPod peaked).

Apple Clothing Chart

As you can see, the "Wearables and Home" segment came from the "iPod" segment, through "Other" products, and now almost double what the iPod was alone.

Note that AirPods can be paired directly with Apple Watch and used independently of the iPhone. If not for that alone, culturally the iconic white AirPods and jewel-style Apple Watch embody the spirit of the iPod.

Text originally published on Asymco. Translation authorized by Horace Dediu.