Here’s an example of this last point: control some features in the AirPods themselves, some in the volume settings in the Control Center, and some important details in the Listening section of the Control Center. Having them better established somewhere would make the feature easier to use. Some predefined values such as “noisy restaurant” or “multiple conversations around me” would be good starting points.
Not long after that dinner, Omicron turned me into a man again, which meant that one of the only places I had regular contact with people where Conversation Boost would be useful was at the grocery store. If it had transparency mode enabled, which should be to use Conversation Boost, it gave the whole store, with its air outlets, talking customers, and storage employees, that underwater feeling in the rain. Communicating at the box was very similar to Jackalope, and I never knew if I should tell the people I was talking to for 30 seconds that I was using my headphones to help me hear them. Over the course of a few months of this, I gently surrounded a feeling with them, and many of them focused not on how the AirPods Pro worked, but on how they were perceived and how they made people feel.
When you’re in the world, headphones can indicate all sorts of things, such as “I’m making music” or “Buzz off!” They’re both great in their own way. They definitely don’t say, “Let’s communicate!” Some days, I would leave them on and talk to the cashier for more information on how the talk boost feature works, but I’ve always felt weird. One day, when I wasn’t having the pros with me and was having a fun chat with a twenty-three-year-old humorous duet, I wondered how they felt when people wore headphones while talking to them.
“It takes 30 seconds to check,” said the cashier, who was understanding but not a fan. “Just be present.”
The bagger had sharper words.
“There’s something in our education that tells us you shouldn’t do that.”
This crystallized what I already knew, and I haven’t put them on for casual encounters since.
I loved having the opportunity to listen to the AirPods Pros for an extended period of time. I didn’t love its Bluetooth eccentricities and really looked forward to it. As someone with hearing problems, I found Conversation Boost to be a mixed bag, but I was glad that Apple engineers were thinking about it, and I have a feeling that the feature will improve over time. I bet they’ll be able to perfect the momentum, shutting down the outside noise more and focusing on the people in your group. I hope they find a way to avoid the problem of “talking to someone with headphones on.” Maybe instead of tech companies putting creepy cameras in smart glasses, they could design really great directional microphones.
When Omicron came down in April, my wife, Elisabeth, and I went to a restaurant with some old friends. Having prepared them in advance, I put on the AirPods. I felt pretty good about Kristin and Greg, who were closer to me, a little less so. Maybe it had something to do with the tone of their voices. It didn’t seem to hurt, but it didn’t help much either. After a couple of minutes, I regained consciousness and plugged my headphones back into my pocket. I didn’t want to play with the setup, I wanted to be present.