Bill Atkinson: Why Apple’s AirPods are the best place for Siri

“The new AirPods are clearly meant to be far more than an audio device,” Mark Sullivan reports for Fast Company. “With a powerful W1 chip inside and at least one microphone for listening, calling the AirPods a pair of headphones is like calling Amazon’s Echo a Bluetooth speaker.”

“AirPods—in their current form and in future revs—seemed aimed at putting Siri’s gentle voice, and her growing personal assistant capabilities, in your ear. And your ear canal may be the very best part of the body to put such a thing,” Sullivan reports. “Veteran Apple engineer Bill Atkinson — known for being a key designer of early Apple UIs and the inventor of MacPaint, QuickDraw, and HyperCard—saw this coming a long time ago. He gave a presentation at MacWorld Expo back in 2011 in which he explains exactly why the ear is the best place for Siri.”

a glasshole
A Glasshole
“Atkinson gave his presentation just before the arrival of Google Glass, which represented the first big effort to put assistive technology in a wearable consumer device,” Sullivan reports. “Well, we all know how that turned out. In my neighborhood people who wore Glass were labeled ‘Glassholes’ or pitied for being hopelessly geeked. There were other, more functional, problems. ‘Google Glass is in your way for one thing, and it’s ugly,’ Atkinson told me. ‘It’s always going to be between you and the person you’re talking to.'”

iPhone 7 with Apple's revolutionary AirPods
iPhone 7 with Apple’s revolutionary AirPods

“Atkinson points to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series from the 1980s, in which an artificial sentience called ‘Jane’ lives in a crystal planted in the ear of the main character, Ender,” Sullivan reports. “Jane can do millions of computations per second and is aware and responsive on millions of levels. She’s hesitant to make herself known to humans because she’s painfully aware of the dangerous feelings of inferiority she may awaken in them. Pretty brilliant stuff. Siri is headed for something like Jane, eventually, Atkinson says. ‘I think of this as Jane 0.1,’ Atkinson says.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s AirPods will go down in history as a seminal product that changed everything.

As we wrote earlier this month:

An LTE-enabled Apple Watch and a pair of AirPods would supplant a great deal of iPhone’s current functions.

Can’t innovate anymore, our collective ass.

As for the AirPods looking alien: Tape a pair of wires on the ends of each and you’ll see that they look very much like the type of earphones that everyone is very used to seeing by now (which, for those who remember, we weren’t used to seeing before iPod – people thought those looked “alien,” too). We’ll all get used to the lack of wires soon enough.MacDailyNews, September 14, 2016

Apple’s response to Amazon Echo: AirPods – September 20, 2016
Apple’s AirPods make Google Glass look even more ridiculous (if that’s even possible) – September 19, 2016
Why Silicon Valley is all wrong about Apple’s AirPods – September 17, 2016
Apple CEO Tim Cook: AirPods won’t fall out of your ears (with video) – September 14, 2016
What AirPods can tell us about Apple’s future – September 12, 2016
Hands-on with Apple’s new AirPods: Stayed in my ears, sounded awesome – September 10, 2016
Apple and a truly wireless future: AirPods are just the start – September 10, 2016
Whoever makes the first AirPods strap is going to get rich – September 8, 2016


  1. I wonder if AirPods, since they are in contact with your head, can use skull vibrations to help Siri separate your voice from other sounds in the environment. On a noisy city street, she may hear “Hey, Siri” coming from you even if you whisper. If Siri can pick up a quieter, internal monologue better, people who feel self conscious about voicing “Hey Siri” out loud in public (me included!) may use the service more.

  2. Apple’s stock earbuds don’t stay snug in my ear at all, and I know a lot of people who feel the same way. I sure hope the Airpods have a better fit, but they are pretty much shaped the same way, so I have my doubts. I’ll wait for the reviews to come in before I make any purchase. They technology is great, but they have to seal the ear or they are worthless for music.

  3. As earpieces that fit snugly into ears get more common and used for longer periods of time between removal I see a market where solutions for ear infections will also become strong. Think diaper rash in your ear. 😛 This is where devices like the Echo will still be important and won’t completely be replaced.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.