Do Apple's AirPods Only Work on the iPhone?

Apple AirPods are compatible with more devices than you think

When Apple debuted the iPhone 7 series and removed the headphone jack from the devices, it compensated by introducing AirPods, its high-end wireless headphones. Many critics decried this move, saying it was typical Apple: replacing a universal technology that it doesn't control with one that's proprietary to its products.

But those critics aren't entirely correct. Apple's AirPods may offer special features when connected to the iPhone 7 and up, but they're not restricted to the iPhone.

Apple's AirPods work with any device that's compatible with Bluetooth headphones.

The AirPods Just Use Bluetooth

Apple doesn't go out of its way to stress this about the AirPods, but it's important to understand: The AirPods connect to other devices using Bluetooth. No proprietary Apple technology blocks other devices or platforms from connecting to the AirPods.

Because they use a standard Bluetooth connection, any device supporting Bluetooth headphones works. Android phones, Windows Phones, Macs, PCs, the Apple TV, game consoles—if they can use Bluetooth headphones, they can use the AirPods.

Three people using AirPods with non-Apple devices
Lifewire / Miguel Co 

But What About the W1?

Part of what leads people to think AirPods are Apple-only is the discussion of the special W1 chip in the iPhone 7 series and later iPhone models. The W1 is a wireless chip created by Apple and available only on its phones. Combine that discussion with the removal of the headphone jack and it's easy to see how people misunderstood.

The W1 chip isn't the way AirPods communicate with the iPhone. Rather, it's what makes them work better than normal Bluetooth devices, both in terms of pairing and battery life.

Connecting a Bluetooth device to your iPhone normally includes putting your wireless earbuds in pairing mode, looking for it on your phone, trying to connect (which doesn't always work), and sometimes entering a passcode.

With the AirPods, all you do is open their case in range of a compatible iPhone and they automatically connect to it (after the first, one-button-push pairing, that is). That's what the W1 chip does: it removes all of the slow, inefficient, unreliable, and annoying elements of Bluetooth connectivity and, in true Apple fashion, replaces it with something that just works.

The W1 chip is also involved in managing battery life for the AirPods, helping them to get five hours of use on a single charge, according to Apple. 

Having problems connecting your AirPods to your devices? We've got the solutions in How to Fix It When AirPods Won't Connect.

So AirPods Work For Everyone?

Generally speaking, AirPods do work with all Bluetooth-compatible devices. But they don't work the same way for all devices. There are definite advantages to using them with the iPhone and other Apple products. You get access to some special features that aren't available elsewhere, including:

  • Tap to Siri: You can double-tap the AirPods to activate Siri. Can't do that on other devices (because Siri doesn't exist on them, of course).
  • Super-Simple Pairing: You can connect the AirPods to any Bluetooth-compatible device, but the super-fast, super-simple pairing only works with the iPhone 7 and up, W1 chip, and Apple TV. For other devices, it's the typical, sometimes buggy pairing process.
  • iCloud Pairing: One of the coolest things about the AirPods is that once you pair them to one of your Apple devices, they're automatically set up to pair with every Apple device that uses the same Apple ID through iCloud. That's not possible on Android, for example, since Android doesn't support iCloud.
  • Smart Features: The AirPods are packed with smart touches. They know when they're in your ears and stop playback when they're taken out. They automatically switch audio playback to the iPhone when they're removed from your ears. They also play audio to only one AirPod if only one is in an ear. These features are only available with Apple devices.
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