Apple AirPods grow in popularity despite health concerns

Irene Si, copy editor

Since the 2016 release of Apple AirPods, the tech gadget has accumulated global praise and popularity, dominating over 60% of the global wireless earbud market, according to a report by Counterpoint Research. AirPods have quickly become the second best-selling Apple product behind the iPad; in an interview with Fortune and CBS News, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives expects Apple to sell 62 million sets this year, generating $10 to $20 billion in sales.

While the surge of interest among consumers has expanded the market and encouraged other large tech companies to produce their brand of wireless earbuds, some scientists have warned consumers of dangerous Bluetooth radiation from wireless earbuds.

The rise of AirPods had not always been a smooth and steady journey. Soon after their launch, the pricey, $160 gadgets were mocked by a swarm of memes and jokes. Just after three years, they are now widely recognized as a status symbol and are often seen in Chantilly’s very own halls. 

Many students agree that “AirPod flexing” is a large factor in Apple’s thriving AirPod business.
“They started as a new technological advancement and people thought, ‘Wireless? These are probably easier to deal with,’” sophomore Sreya Devarakonda said. “They became something everyone wanted to show off.”

AirPod users are often thought of as wealthy and privileged, a perception that encourages consumers to invest a large sum for this advanced and popular product. 

“Everybody thinks that AirPods are cool just because they’re expensive and everybody wants to ‘flex’ on everyone else,” freshman Joshua Wu said.

This positive stereotype for AirPod users may hurt those who have yet to buy them. 

“It’s peer pressure,” junior Christine Tsai said. “People feel the need to fit in and get a sense of what it feels like to own something that is considered popular and trendy.”

The business boom for AirPods cannot only be associated with their street credit; these devices come with dual microphones, optical sensors and Audio Sharing technology, and they have faster and more stable Bluetooth connectivity. Although many believe that AirPods have no significant improvement in sound quality, they are useful in daily life. 

“I bought them because wireless earbuds are very convenient, especially when you need to work out,” Tsai said. “The audio quality of wireless earbuds is not revolutionary, but they are worth it for their convenience.”

Considering these devices are very easy to misplace, some consumers are unable to justify the high cost. Not only are they small in size and easy to lose, replacing a single AirPod can cost around $70. 

“They’re expensive, and there’s no utility to them other than they’re wireless,” Wu said. “I don’t even see a difference in the sound quality. It’s the same thing [as regular earbuds].”

But more serious than mediocre sound quality is the number of health risks AirPods could pose.

In 2015, 250 experts from 40 different countries held a petition for the United Nations and World Health Organization to raise the bar for Bluetooth radiation standards, emphasizing the health concerns some technologies pose. EMFs, or non-ionizing electromagnetic fields, are a form of radiation emitted from certain devices. Findings from the International Agency for Research on Cancer have linked EMF to cancer. Additionally, Jerry Phillips, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado, stated in a Medium article that tissues in the head are exposed to dangerous levels of radio-frequency radiation from the location of wireless earbuds in the ear canal.

Despite the evidence, many researchers disagree with these conclusions. In Health magazine, studies from Ken Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that radiation from Bluetooth devices falls well within the safety standards set in the U.S. Moreover, the AirPod antenna that actually distributes radio waves is not placed inside the ear canal, but below the ear; also, the radiation produced by wireless earbuds is one-tenth of the amount released by cell phones. 

While the potential health risks of wireless earbuds do not faze many students, others continue to avoid using these products. 

“They’re dangerous,” Devarakonda said. “I’d rather stick with my normal headphones and spend a couple of minutes untangling the wires rather than have wireless ones and risk getting cancer.”