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AirPods Pro review: you dont need to be an AirPods power-user to appreciate them

https://appleinsider.com/articles/19/11/07/airpods-pro-review-you-dont-need-to-be-an-airpods-power-user-to-appreciate-them

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With active noise cancellation and other new features, Apple’s new AirPods Pro does its best to embody the “pro” monicker affixed to the well-known name.

AirPods Pro

AirPods Pro are easy to set up

There aren’t many things left unsaid about AirPods Pro. If you’ve seen or read any of the other reviews out there they likely all touch on the same topics.

We don’t need to rehash all of those sentiments by just giving you more of the same. Rather, we want to give you a look at our past week using AirPods Pro after being daily users of the original AirPods —pretty much since launch.

A quick look at the specs

Before we do that, it would be irresponsible to not at least touch on the specs AirPods Pro is equipped with.

The new generation Apple true wireless earbud has a new design that is shorter with a more bulbous end. A new force sensor in the stem replaces the tapping gesture for controlling the headphones. Multiple sizes of silicone tips help provide a better seal and fit to help with the new noise control features.

AirPods Pro in their box

AirPods Pro in their box

Speaking of which, include active noise cancellation, Adaptive EQ, and transparency mode. These all rely not only on an external mic but an internal mic that can hear what your ear is hearing.

They now fit in a redesigned wireless charging case that is shorter and wider than the original.

More than what we asked for

Preceding the AirPods Pro announcement, there were only a couple things we needed to see on a new set of AirPods. We wanted a better fit for active lifestyles and better audio quality. AirPods would constantly fall out for us while we were hitting the treadmill or weight bench and the audio quality could best be described as “fine.”

AirPods Pro

AirPods Pro are great headphones

Audio quality was quite a sticking point for us. We test piles of headphones with outstanding sound but always go back to AirPods because of their ease of use. It was disappointing to come back to such dismal audio.

Upgrading to pro

With those in mind, the absolute first thing we did after getting our hands on AirPods Pro was hit the gym, testing all of our common routines. To our surprise, we made it through an hour and a half without a single earbud coming free. Whether jumping around or lying supine, AirPods Pro didn’t fall out.

AirPods Pro silicone tips come in small, medium, large

AirPods Pro silicone tips come in small, medium, large

That isn’t to say that the fit was perfect for us. We’ve historically terrible luck with in-ear headphones. They never stay put for us.

As a general rule, AirPods Pro did fit well for us, but we could use more sizes of the silicone ear tips. A smaller size or half sizes would go a long way towards making these fit perfect. Apple, like Klipsch, chose to use an oval-shaped tip which could be part of what makes it stay in so much better, even with not the perfect size.

Apple does offer up the fit test within Bluetooth settings and while neat, didn’t provide any real benefit to us. We could tell what fit very easily just by trying on the different sizes, but maybe it is more beneficial to others with differently shaped ears.

The audio quality was great. With a good fit, it was punchy, a full sound, and a huge step up for AirPods. Not saying this is audiophile quality or what you’d get with a set of dedicated over-ear cans, but wow. We were very happy with the audio quality these put out.

The nosie control toggle within Control Center for AirPods Pro

The nosie control toggle within Control Center for AirPods Pro

The active noise cancelation was a bonus for us, but a week in and we don’t use it as much as others may. It is nice to have and we used it in the gym for a more immersive workout, but day-to-day we relied on transparency mode. It sounded so much more natural and allowed us to hear people talking to us in the office, delivery drivers hitting up the door, or other runners while we were out with the dogs. It may be our favorite feature of the new AirPods Pro.

In this set of AirPods, Apple forwent the tapping gesture and replaced it with the force sensors in the stems. This requires you to squeeze the stems to control playback and switch modes. The good news is that it adds more gestures than tapping, but it is still awkward to use. If you are moving, trying to squeeze will inevitably knock the AirPods Pro loose. Second-gen or AirPods Pro —we’d still prefer to just use Siri or our Apple Watch.

While we are here, we also want to give a shoutout to iOS that recently added some great features for AirPods users. Not specifically for the AirPods Pro, but great either way.

With this update, users can now have messages announced via Siri. It will automatically reduce any audio that’splaying, read the message, then quickly give you a chance to respond. If you are busy and on the go, this is amazingly helpful and we found ourselves wearing AirPods around the office just so we could respond to messages without having to dig out our phone each time.

Additionally, Audio Sharing —a feature promised with iOS 13 —finally arrived in iOS 13.2. This allows users to share audio with multiple sets of headphones at once. Say you are watching a movie and your partner wants to watch as well with their headphones. They just bring their AirPods or Beats near your phone or tablet and it will kick off a modal that lets audio be sent to each simultaneously. Works with any audio, including movies, music, or games.

Not without issues

As far as issues we ran into, during long sessions we did have the battery die out on us, which is unsurprising. They’re equipped with the same battery life as the AirPods 2 but take a small hit when ANC or transparency mode is turned on. It’d have been nice to see a longer life, but we will take the smaller size as the tradeoff.

We also aren’t fans of the new case. Maybe it is nitpicking, but it is what has gone through our minds several times during the past week. It is squat and kind of awkward in our hand and isn’t as easy to flip open as the original. The original case was fantastic and was even useful as a fidget device we could open and close repetitively. This case, while it looks similar and feels the same, just doesn’t have the same affinity to us.

An AirPods Pro individual earbud

An AirPods Pro individual earbud

There were some improvements to the microphone, which now block out wind better than before, but the same issues as the last generation are present. Namely, they are very sensitive. It is great in picking up your voice, but if you try to do anything with your hands at the same time it gets amplified greatly. Pick up a cup, crinkle a chip bag, wash your hands, really anything that makes any noise sounds crazy on the other end. In a test call, I set down a cup on the counter and the recipient of the call said it sounded like I smacked a hammer against a pipe.

Minor quibbles notwithstanding, we’re overwhelmingly happy with AirPods Pro.

Should you buy AirPods Pro?

If you are an active user, moving around, jumping on planes, or frequently working out, AirPods Pro are the way to go. Otherwise, it gets murky.

Most folks are going to fall into one of three camps. They are either existing AirPods owners who are debating an upgrade, they are new to AirPods and debating the AirPods second-gen with wireless charging case, or they are new users looking at the second-gen with the standard case,

AirPods Pro are great for active users

AirPods Pro are great for active users

If you are in the latter camp, it is kind of hard to justify the $100 price increase between the two. There are a lot of features for that differential, but if you just want AirPods in the most cost-efficient form, then it isn’t AirPods Pro.

If you are looking at the second-gen set with the wireless charging case, springing for AirPods Pro is a no-brainer. It is a $50 difference and you get better fit, water resistance, ANC, transparency mode, and far better audio. We’d make that jump in a heartbeat.

Those in the last group are hardest to quantify, being that they already have a set of AirPods —possibly the second-generation set that launched only in March. For us, with audio quality and fit being most important, we were able to justify it. Especially after gifting our other set to a family member. Before AirPods Pro we were forced to use another set of headphones while at the gym. With AirPods Pro, we get to use them twice as much.

Pros

  • Smaller design
  • Much better audio quality
  • Great ANC
  • Transparency mode is outstanding
  • Stay in much better
  • Work with Audio Sharing
  • Announce messages with Siri is particularly useful
  • Water/sweat resistant

Cons

  • Needs more granular ear tips
  • Force sensors are awkward to use
  • Charging case is awkward
  • Higher price tag and no price decrease on second-gen

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy Apple’s new earphones

Apple AirPods Pro retail for $249 and are carried at these top retailers:

For the latest AirPods deals, be sure to visit our Apple AirPods Price Guide.

AirPods and AirPods Pro specifications

AirPods (Second Generation) AirPods Pro
Dimensions (inches) 1.59 x 0.65 x 0.71 1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94
Weight (ounces) 0.14 0.19
Case Dimensions (inches) 2.11 x 1.74 x 0.84 1.78 x 2.39 x 0.85
Case Weight (ounces) 1.41 1.61
Battery Life (AirPods) 5 Hours 4.5 House with ANC, 5 with ANC off
Battery Life (with Case) More than 24 Hours More than 24 Hours
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Microphones Dual Beamforming Dual Beamforming, Single Inward-Facing
Sensors Dual Optical Sensors, Motion-Detecting Accelerometer, Speech-Detecting Accelerometer Dual Optical Sensors, Motion-Detecting Accelerometer, Speech-Detecting Accelerometer, Force Sensor
Sweat and Water Resistance No IPX4
Active Noise Cancellation No Yes
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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.

This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.

Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.

Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.

As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.

Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.

To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.

Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.

African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.

But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.

Jumia vs. Konga

The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.

Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.

Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.

That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.

While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.

E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.

So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.

In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.

Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.

Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

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