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Amazon is releasing its own AirPod look-alikes

The Alexa-assisted wireless earbuds are reportedly coming later this year.

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Bloomberg reports that Amazon is getting into wearables this year with a version of Apple’s famous AirPods.
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Amazon is making wireless earbuds equipped with its voice assistant Alexa, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported Thursday.

Citing anonymous sources within the company, Gurman said the earbuds will look and function like Apple’s super-popular AirPods, but that Amazon is working on better audio quality for its version of the product. His report details specific features:

The headphones will let people use their voice to order goods, access music, weather and other information on the go. The Amazon digital assistant will be summoned by saying “Alexa.” There will be physical gesture controls, such as tapping to pick up and end calls and switch between songs, the people said. Amazon declined to comment.

The Amazon earbuds will be the first Alexa wearable and will help the company push its voice assistant into more and more daily routines — skirting the fact that it doesn’t have a naturally compatible operating system that puts it on millions of phones, as Siri does with iOS or Google Assistant does with Android.

Gurman also cites Counterpoint Research, saying that Apple sold more than 7 million pairs of AirPods in the last quarter of 2018 alone. The first generation of AirPods debuted in September 2016, and the devices have been mimicked by Google, which released its poorly reviewed Pixel Buds in October 2017, and Samsung, which launched its also poorly reviewed Galaxy Buds this February.

AirPods have been a bizarre cultural moment, in part because they looked very strange when people first started wearing them in public and in part because they were so expensive ($159) and so easy to lose. “Owners of AirPods are rich idiots” quickly became a popular meme genre, and AirPods are an entire “subculture” on the internet phenomena database Know Your Meme.

The memes have gotten stranger and more elaborate over the past six months, peaking again around the holidays — this time with TikTok clips mocking AirPod owners for assuming that anyone who still has wires on their headphones is homeless, and with viral Instagram posts, including one that shows people who were gifted AirPods at Christmas being knighted as new “members” of the cultural elite.

“The AirPod jokes wave has crested once again,” New York magazine’s Brian Feldman wrote in January. According to Mashable, a 27-year-old lobbyist was mocked by a group of 20 preteens for wearing normal earbuds earlier this year. (“I was walking to my office down Pennsylvania Avenue and began putting my headphones [in] to make a call. A group of 20 or so middle school students passed by me with one loudly proclaiming ‘nice headphone[s]’ and another exclaiming ‘POOR.’”)

Apple launched the second-generation AirPods in March 2019, marking them up to $199. For Amazon, the typical play is to make super-cheap hardware that becomes ubiquitous because it seems silly not to buy it. Its AirPods competitor, it would be reasonable to assume, will come at a price point significantly lower than Apple’s; this imperative could be why, as the Gurman report mentions, the company has had such a hard time finding a manufacturer. As with the proliferation of its Echo smart speakers, Amazon probably doesn’t even care if it takes a hit on the product. It just wants Alexa in every ear.

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