In defense of the single AirPod

Every day, I walk. Sometimes it's with the dog, usually in a languid, finite circle, but most of the time it's just to walk. To be not here, in front of a computer. It's a relief, and a release. And at some point in the last year — and I can't exactly say when — I started walking with a single AirPod.

A brief history of Pod

I bought my AirPods pretty soon after they were released in late 2016. You should see mine: the outer case is scratched to hell, and the inside, despite regular cleaning, isn't much better. When I leave the house, it's my phone in my left pocket and, in the right, wallet and AirPods case. I wear Uniqlo jeans: everything just fits.

I use the AirPods with any phone I have on me — I run Android Central and wrote about how great they are with Android phones — because their intended platform is irrelevant to how I use them. I don't need Siri in my ear because I don't want anything in my ear. I wear AirPods because they practically disappear.

That's how I came to wearing a single AirPod. Apple designed the earbuds to be worn in any of three configurations: single left, single right, or as a pair. Obviously, the pair provides the best experience, including stereo sound, dynamic microphones, and a useful combination of double-tap gestures, but a single AirPod gets most of the way there without compromising my place in the world.

A reason to be single

I'm not one to push back against the infectious groove of a song, especially as I walk in step to the beat. It's actually one of my favorite things. But throughout this fractious, loud, dissonant year, I found myself unable, for better or worse, to idly enjoy music as I walked through the streets of Toronto. Instead, it was radio — podcasts, digital streams, interviews — that kept me rapt throughout 2017, and it was through one AirPod that I absorbed the information, with another ear open to the world.

I also found the single AirPod ideal for talking on the phone — the Bluetooth headset for the iPhone crowd — or, in my case, for trying and failing to multitask. I love the notion that I am simultaneously available to the world and in another one. I know it's selfish, but I revel in the challenge.

The practice started shortly after I got my dog and started walking her on a regular basis. People would stop me and ask her name and whether they could pet her and I always found myself fumbling to double-tap my left AirPod to pause what I was listening or, failing that, removing the earbud altogether and continuing my walk. It's a testament to the W1 chip and Apple's engineering that the transition from two to one is so seamless, especially when paired to an iPhone: more often than not, whatever I was listening to would just continue playing.

Listening to a single AirPod is like having a backup phone battery.

There's another underappreciated advantage: listening to a single AirPod is like having a backup phone battery. Once one dies, you can replace it with another. I tend to keep a single AirPod in my ear for hours at a time, passively listening to podcasts, live news, and the occasional song while I write or do housework. After a few hours, I'll hear the low battery signal and just reach into my pocket to pull out the opposite earbud, replace the original to charge, and continue with my day. Every two days or so, I'll top up everything and continue my routine.

Not perfect, but close

With a year behind me, I find myself increasingly critical of the AirPods' main flaw: I don't love listening to music on them. This also contributes to my predilection for spoken word content since I find myself constantly having to adjust their position to find a low-end sweet spot. (I have yet to try the bass hack, but I plan to in the new year.) But I continue, day after day, to take them with me in lieu of dozens of other better-sounding headphones. I have a pair of noise-canceling cans for the plane, and plenty of audiophile hardware when I'm sitting at home, but AirPods — one AirPod, in fact — is my ideal minimalist everyday carry.

And even with all these great new truly wireless headphones being released every few months, I don't see my behavior changing anytime soon.

Daniel Bader

Daniel Bader is a Senior Editor at iMore, offering his Canadian analysis on Apple and its awesome products. In addition to writing and producing, Daniel regularly appears on Canadian networks CBC and CTV as a technology analyst.

9 Comments
  • I do this with my Samsung Gear IconX's if I'm just listening to podcasts, or at work. mono is fine for podcast listening, and while i'm at work I want/need to listen to something in the background, but I also don't want to be completely isolated from my surroundings. Basically, I like having the option. I like that I can listen to one or both depending on the surroundings/circumstance.
  • Considering their shoddy levels of isolation, I reckon you could be "alone but part of the world" even with both units on. Single pod use is useful when driving, I suppose.
  • Unfortunately with two in your ear it blocks important sounds outside, and also reflects your own voice back in. (Vibration)
    It’s not meant as an isolation headset, thankfully.
  • If you're listening to podcasts or spoken audio in one ear only, you can get a tiny earbud for about $16 on Amazon. The GoNovate nano in beige for example fits inside your ear and people can barely tell it's there.
    I find it to be much more conventent.
    However, it's pretty bad for phone calls. This is where airpod excel as they are excellent for phone calls. When single-podding it, I try to alternate R/L so that the batteries were evenly rather than put all of the charge cycles on just one.
  • Agree completely. What’s the amount of charge cycles before degradation? I know in a tear down of the QC35 they found it had 1000 charges before degradation. I use these 12 hours a day in commute and cubicle. I’m concerned within a year the battery will degrade beyond the point of their usefulness. I’ve read some folks after a year are only getting 2 hours per pod with heavy listening. I have nice headphones with nicer sound but it’s a hassle and I prefer the ease of AirPods over better sound.
  • I almost never use two Airpods. I tend to listen to books and podcasts, where quality isn't a huge factor. I like being part of the world around me, while living an active internal life as well. It's safer and I'm much less likely to be startled when on a walk with three dogs. Actually, before there were ipods, I used to listen to one of my Bose earbuds with the other hanging loose. I am so happy to be wireless!
  • I’m pretty much the same way. I only recently started listening to music with both AirPods, but I find that 80% of the time, I go with the single AirPod.
  • I, too, run the single AirPod routine - for a slightly different reason. I sleep with mine in, listening to music, podcasts and radio broadcasts thru the night. Sadly, the battery life cannot get me thru a full night, but I found that if I start off wearing one, that one gets me halfway thru the night, and then when necessary I switch over to other to finish up my night time routine. I'm tempted to switch over to a longer lasting, different brand, of headphones, but I really like the AirPods fit in my ear.
  • I am deaf in one ear, the single AirPod is great for me, but I HAVE TO buy two and spend the money for a useless pod that just sits in the case.