What should Apple do with the Beats headphone line? [Poll]

The Apple/Beats deal might be official now but a lot of questions remain. Will Apple keep the Beats brand? What roles will Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre play as Apple executives? Will Beats under Apple continue to produce stylish, high-priced, bass-intesive, headphones? It's that last one I'm curious about right now... What should Apple do with Beats headphones?

Should they keep the headsets as-is, Beats-branded and bass-heavy? Should the consolidate them under the Apple-branded EarPods line? Should they toss out everything and make a new line of great, accurate-sounded headsets for the next generation? (With super bass-boost button if needed?). Or should Apple just get out of the headset business entirely and focus on devices and services?

It's an interesting question — to change Beats headphones could make them technically "better" but could also ruin what makes them undeniably popular. The Beats brand could increase Apple's addressable market but could also split their focus. Which way should they go?

Vote in the poll above and give me your expanded thoughts in the comments below!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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What should Apple do with the Beats headphone line? [Poll]

44 Comments

They should do nothing to substantively tie Apple's image to the Beats image. Apple should instead take advantage of their clout with manufacturers to get a better product made for less and improve margins (which are already quite fat).

Total agreement with this. Other than the fact of the public knowing it's owned by Apple, the headphone brand should remain entirely separate and not folded into Apple. In fact, it would be best if Apple still maintains its default earbuds, and offers Beats as an upgrade option. "Replace standard Apple earpods with Beats Tour - $99 extra" or that sort of thing.

Completely agree with your comment. And to all the people saying Beats headphones are overpriced crap, I pretty much agree with you. Beats does appeal to the younger crowd though and I think Apple is feeling the pressure to be seen as hip. Those Samsung adds did damage whether Apple fans want to admit it or not. Although I said the headphones are overpriced for what they do, I do like them because they are heavy on bass and that's how I like to listen to my music in most cases. Having said all that I still don't understand the acquisition?!?

Well I guess we at least now know where the talks of the 100$ price increase is coming from. They will probably sell a iphone that comes with beats head phones at different price increments. If Apple is smartt they will leave Beast as Beats for now until the two brands become synonomous with each other then they can quietly call it Apple Beats or something like that.

This is just ridiculous. They aren't going to raise prices $100. Even if they did, "paying" for the Beats acquisition or paying extra for Beats technology to be included in the phone won't have anything to do with the reason they do so.

If apples smart they will not only slightly tweak the sound of beats to please audiophiles (critics ) more . but Improve reliability and build quality to a standard as high as apples , for all my years owning apple products I , people i know and family have never had a major issue with any mac , iPod,iPad or iPhone . However we have had two pairs of beats , the over ears no problems at all , In ears broke twice. (however did upgrade us to better "tour" in ears , and 3 months no issues , fingers crossed) So hopefully apple will address this.

What do critics and audiophiles have to do with anything? They don’t influence the purchase of consumer grade gear. In fact audiophiles are generally dismissed as weirdos, just like nerds and geeks, who also influence nothing.

That is true. And that is why companies that make high quality audio gear are small. Quality is never a good business, and it is even less so in music and the audio reproduction arena. If Beats made good headphones, Apple would never have bought it since there would be nothing of interest to buy. And so Beats will not suddenly turn into a quality-oriented brand from a teenager's bass-crap brand. That would simply nullfy the whole purchase.

Exactly. Nobody makes cars primarily for formula 1 drivers. Starbucks makes mediocre overpriced coffee and they trounce the boutique stores selling super expensive coffee made by hand or whatever. I've been to them. Coffees great. But it's not the best business to try to put in rural North Carolina. But I can drop a starbucks in a town with free wifi and couches and expensive mugs and Diana Krall CDs and make a ton of money. Because that's what people want. (I like Diana Krall by the way. No offense Diana).

The problem is these headphones are not aimed at tech geeks. They are not even aimed at technophiles. They are aimed at people that like to associate with celebrity, with hip-hop music, with pop music, with trendyness. And sorry that's never been the technogeek crowd. I'm not saying that people that love hip-hop don't like gadgets and tech and all that shit. They do. But Hip-hop from day one has been over the top, brash, crazy nicknames, edgy topics, revolutionary, militant lyrics. It was around form more than 15 years before mainstream really got hold of it. I mean they had court cases, the fbi was tapping death row record phones. Before this day of watered down drake rappers and people associating with Justin Beibers it was the modern bad boy. Hell it was Bad Boy records. It was the voice of the underclass and still is to an extent. And that's a big part of it's selling point and Dre's selling point. Grado and Sennheiser and Bose just have trouble trying to be that selling to the the geek set and 50 year old men in listening rooms with their Linn tables playing Miles through their $9000 Ariel Acoustic speakers. Especially when you consider most people are playing shit mp3s recorded on shit equipment.

The flaw in your reasoning is that there are legions of "audiophiles" who think that beats are actually already superior. In fact, you can find an "audiophile" who will say the same thing about almost any product out there. That's because these sorts of determinations are far closer to subjective "tastes" than they are to anything that can be measured objectively.

The whole concept that there is an objective "best" sound is pure nonsense. The concomitant idea that a pair of headphones can be made that reproduces all music "accurately" is similarly flawed. There is no right and wrong here. If you listen to rap and pop, beats are probably the best headphones you can get.

A very good point. And NO real hip-hop head wants music with shitty bass. Bass is the lifeblood of the music so if an audiophile's opinion is there's too much it may be the wrong sound for their tastes. Hell some people like gibsons some like fender's. it's a matter of taste.

The people that buy beats what BASS! It's a hip-hop headphone. It's entire selling point is that market. Tech geeks and audiophiles don't get, that most people don't give two shits about headphone technology or sound quality. That's not why people buy headphones. If it was better headphones would have 64% market share. They don't. Changing the way they sound does nothing but drive away the core customer. That's like buying Ferrari and deciding now your making only trucks or buying the rights to Avengers and making it a romantic comedy. critics don't matter with Marvel movies and they don't matter with Beats headphones. Nobody is going to those movies to marvel in the sound quality. They want shit to go boom. As long as it's loud that's all that matters. I don't think it's smart to worry about critics. I would make them with better construction though.

Bottom line. Headphone buyers don't want what audiophiles and audio critics want.

I predict it to be a huge mistake, given the cost. They're buying on the peak. Audio enthusiasts have no respect for the Beats line because of it's over priced and generally poor quality. They will still be able to net casual consumers who are buying based on marketing but why dump so much into Beats (they're buying a name, not a leading technology) when your own name (Apple) carries far greater value? The R&D costs of developing a new line are much cheaper than the cost of the Beats deal. Huge mistake and another example of how Apple is now following instead of leading.

“Audio enthusiasts have no respect for the Beats line because of it’s over priced and generally poor quality.”

And the general public has no respect for audio enthusiasts who come off as holier-than-thou a-holes who look down on anybody who dares to question their authority. You really think a 15-30 year old is going to pay any attention to some audiophile’s opinion when said audiophile thinks $25K speakers are the bare minimum required for a correct listening experience?

Not an audiophile here - just a 30 something guy who wants a decent sounding set of headphones of decent quality. Beats are neither. Look at the amazon reviews for them and come back here with your blather. Do you own stock in that crap or something ? Sucker.

Amazon reviews? Amazon reviews? You’ve got to be kidding. Online reviews from anonymous clowns who claim to be unbiased users? No such animals exist. Anyone who places any stock in online reviews from unmoderated, public, anonymous commenters, some of whom get paid to say good or bad things about a product, can’t be taken seriously. As someone elsewhere points out for every commenter (you, for example) who trashes’ Beats you can find one who thinks they’re the best. For every commenter that says AT&T sucks and Verizon rules you can find one that says the opposite. For ever commenter that says Android rules and iOS sucks you can find another who says the exact opposite. So get real. Beats is out there. It’s big and it’s successful no matter what you think.

He's correct and I don't think you're in-touch with what's going on. Someone doesn't have to be an "audiophile" (a term which you used, not I) to be enthusiastic about their music and when they go online to see what a good headphone is, they do see these reviews. I own an audio equipment biz and frequently meet casual consumers who are surprisingly educated about audio quality, even if they aren't hobbyists. As I said, Apple is buying Beats at their peak. Monster cable went through the same thing a few years back and once the competition caught up (as is about to happen to Beats) and the consumers became educated (as is also happening), Monster lost their grip on the market and ended up having to bolster their budget lines to stay competitive. Apple's market share is continually eroding because instead of the innovation that made them great, they keep making decisions like this.

But who is the competition, and what (revenues?) are they catching up to? If fashion is driving Beats' popularity (and fashion is fickle), then it mostly likely should be something equally or more fashionable than Beats, if those brands want to really compete on the same playing field. I'm talking apples for apples, so to speak.

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I don't think Apple's decision is about acquiring "fashion", though that may be a small part of it. It seems more about expanding market share among those who are looking for something authentic, something that represents a more diverse crowd. Apple has been known for appealing to artists, and with this acquisition they appeal to a more diverse crew of artists. This isn't about headphones, it's about marketing. And I think it's fantastic that Apple is awake enough to realize and appreciate the importance of diverse markets.

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"And the general public has no respect for audio enthusiasts who come off as holier-than-thou a-holes who look down on anybody who dares to question their authority."

These 'audiophiles' you talk of so enthusiastically sound a lot like Apple fans attending a discourse on consumer electronics and computers with users of other systems and brands.

They don't UNTIL they heard other headphones side-by-side with the Beats. I know. Just seven months ago, I worked in an Apple retail store, and when asked about the Beats headphones, I would always walk my customers over to the display and let them listen to the Bowers & Wilkins, or the Harmon Kardon's, or the Sennheiser's, etc., and the Beats. Invariably, when they got a look at the pricetags, they always went with the non-Beats option, because even their non-audiophile ears could tell what pieces of overpriced crap the Beats headphones were.

We don't know if that's even the case of course, but if it was, they broke the clause about not announcing before Apple was ready. Thus $200 million penalty.

Apple should leave the headphones as is. Everyone loves to talk about how crappy they are but it brings in 1 Billion a year. People say as an audiophile the headphones don't stack up. Just like the fact that Apple doesn't cater to the advanced user but instead to mainstream. The same way the headphones are not aimed at audiophiles. It's aimed at mainstream customers. Some people love the bass. An Audiophile can go out and buy Bang & Olufsen or Sennheiser for top notch audio quality. Now Apple could bundle the headphones with iPhones for a discount.

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I'd like to see them rebranded to provide a more accurate, less bass heavy sound. Not everyone likes music genres with heavy bass.

They should definitely not be functional only on Apple products though. Excluding other platforms would hurt, especially since the Beats music service will be available for Android and Windows Phone users. Why not market the headphones to those users too?

Give me a set with the iPhone 6. Apple earphones are shit, I don't even take them out of the packaging

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Everyone is waffling on about how they "don't like the bass" and how the headphones should be "corrected" but that only matters if they are rebranded as Apple headphones (they aren't going to be).

It's far more likely that Beats will stay beats and that other, different headphones would be made by Beats (either under the brand or under Apple's brand) and released for the other parts of the market.

Beats sell really well. To buy beats and then change the one thing about their headphones that everyone likes and buys them specifically for ... well that would just be idiotic.

Screw audiophiles. That market will make Beats uncool and shrink sales. They need to stay Bass-Heavy as a separate brand. What Apple does need to do is invest in DURABILITY. No more broken headbands, wires that pull out, sound cutting out in one ear...

Well Robert Brunner confirmed that his design firm will no longer be working with Beats. So the hardware is Jony Ive's problem now.

I just deleted half the post I wrote because I'm under an NDA, and I really wish I could add some context to all of this. Aside from all that, here's my personal take on it.

Beats is 100% fashion (IMHO), because there's nothing overly difficult (industrial design aside) in making headphones with average sound quality. The boosted bass is preferred by many people - so, ok whatever , each to their own. Unless you are buying premium brand headphones, where the transducers are designed specifically to achieve a desired frequency response etc., you will often encounter that typical "sound" associated with such products (including most of the Bluetooth speakers on the market). Tailoring average headphones to sound a certain way adds distortion blah blah blah (I know, most people would never care or even notice).

I think there is a major point of difference between the two brands. Apple provides an exceptional customer experience for many people. That builds the brand value and customer loyalty. It takes a lot of expertise and effort to conceive, design, procure, manufacture, market and sell its products and services.

With Beats, the only real innovation is the creation of a fashionable brand / products that transcends the price vs quality ratio. However, if they can bring in over a billion in revenues, then it's hard to argue with the winning formula they created, in a very tough market like headphones.

Apple knows that.

So, it must be all about the streaming music service.

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...and the Beats headphone business is a 'cash cow', which will undoubtedly be further improved by Apple. I can see how attractive this acquisition is (streaming music service, huge headphone business, and two new high level execs), so $3bn is just the price tag. Too high or low? Who knows!

The layers go deeper and the ripples go farther.

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I think it would be interesting if Beats headphones became the next generation iPod. The headphones would have an SSD built in as well as wifi. ICloud would cache songs that you like as well as songs that it thinks you would like in order to provide an amazing online or offline listening experience that isn't smartphone reliant.

I do see Apple's subscription service be named Apple Beats or something, but that's about as far as they should visibly work together. Other than that, keep in separate. No bundles please or anything.

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When I think about a car stereo, I think about all the components. But most people will get an amp, a 15" JL and call it a day. Not the best sound, but plenty of bass. That's sort of the deal with Beats. Say what you will, but they have a kick-ass design with appeal to the tune of a billion dollars.
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How many of us Mac owners knew darn well that we could build a PC for less? But we didn't want that. We wanted a Mac.
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That's why this was a match made in heaven. Function. Design. Loyal customers. It's a win for both brands. They should remain separate entities that partner with each other. Give me a pair of beats ear buds with an iPhone purchase. Incorporate some of that beats tech. Something like that.
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I really wish Dre had not spilled the beans. I shake my head at all the mess this has created.

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