AirPods and Mac compatibility has to be more like iOS
There are many things that macOS handles better than iOS when it comes to sound. On the Mac, you can play audio in more than one app at the same time; On iOS, only one app can play audio at a time.
On the Mac, apps like Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack, SoundSource, and Loopback make it possible to redirect different audio between different apps, speakers, and microphones, while recording and playing live at the same time. On iOS, that is simply not possible.
And still, the more I use my MacBook Air with M1 with my AirPods, the more I realize that there are many ways the Mac is not at the iOS level. I expect Apple products to behave in a certain way … and it disappoints that the Mac can’t keep up with others.
Connect and stay connected
I love my AirPods Pro and use them with all my Apple devices: iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac. And while using AirPods with Apple Watch can often be frustrating, nothing compared to Mac.
(And I have to admit that part of my frustration comes from the Mac’s audio system being much more complex and advanced than the iOS one.)
But … connecting and disconnecting the AirPods from the Mac is much more frustrating than with iOS. While iOS 14 brought a connect and a disconnect for the smarter AirPods, Big Sur falls short. AirPods can take a long time to connect, but disconnect with minimal movement.
While writing this article, my wife asked me a question. I took off one of the AirPods and the music paused, as it should. Once I answered the question, I put the AirPod back on, and it instantly rang, connected to my iPhone from 1.5 meters away, and started playing a podcast.
But as if this wasn’t frustrating enough, trying to reconnect them to my Mac was even more difficult when trying to tap on the Notifications Center alerts, the AirPlay icon in Music, and the output tab in the ‘Sound’ category of the System. Preferences. Finally, I got it, but not quite how.
When I started writing this article, I plugged in my AirPods and music started playing, but even with the volume turned up in the Music app, the music didn’t sound too loud. The volume controls on the keyboard were adjusted to the system volume, but all that did was make it adjust to the volume of my external speakers, not my AirPods.
In order for my AirPods to play music at a higher volume, I had to open the Sound preferences panel and set the AirPods as my default output audio, and already then the system volume was louder and that also caused that the music was louder.
I have also noticed several momentary disconnections and audio leaks on the Mac, although this may be fixed with macOS Big Sur 11.2, which I have already updated. And at various points, my AirPods have been stuck in “voice profile” mode, where the audio is converted to low-quality mono sound, making my music look like it’s calling me on the phone. This never happens with my iPad or iPhone.
Suffice it to say, the Mac needs to do a better job of supporting AirPods. But beyond that, now that we are in the era of Apple Silicon, I think we have to put aside some assumptions about how Macs work, and it is my habits of using AirPods with my iPad and iPhone that have me. made to think.
Apple processors, unlike the chips in Intel Macs, have two types of processor cores: performance cores and efficiency cores. The efficiency cores allow for low-power operation, which makes sense because iPhones and iPads are always on, even with screens off. When you click the sleep button on an iPhone or iPad, it continues to work, but in a low-power state that limits battery consumption.
When you put your Mac into Sleep mode, either through the Apple menu, when the screen turns off, or when you close the laptop lid, it’s no longer there. Yes, Apple’s Power Nap feature allows Macs to wake up from sleep every now and then and perform basic tasks, but it’s a temporary, intermittent state.
With Apple Silicon Macs, it’s time for Apple to change what they define as “sleep” to make it look more like the iPhone and iPad. I think that is already so in a way: Macs with Apple Silicon wake up instantly, and the Power Nap feature is no longer optional. But it doesn’t go much further.
Imagine this: you are listening to music on your iPad and you close the lid. Or you are listening to a podcast on your iPhone and you hit the sleep button. What happens? Audio continues to play.