Just a week after the launch of Apple’s AirPod Pro 2, new owners started receiving an unusual alert: It was, apparently, time to replace their batteries soon. This is unusual, of course, both because the AirPod Pros are brand new—and because it is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to replace said battery.
In fact, the AirPods have a reputation as being one of the most famously unfixable pieces of consumer electronics of the modern era. Which is precisely why we were eager to get our hands onto these, “the world’s most popular headphones”—the second generation AirPods Pro. We wanted to see if, as with the iPhone 14, anything had changed. Well, we’re sorry to say the irony of Apple’s device telling you to replace a battery that cannot physically be replaced will live on: The AirPods are as unrepairable as ever.
Want to see for yourself? Let us walk you through the teardown to prove it to you.
Put on the pressure and the earbuds do offer up a seam, but it takes way more effort to pop them open than more repairable options like Sony’s. Once open, the bud is full of rubbery silicone-like glue, keeping the battery and speaker driver locked tightly away. That’s good for vibration-dampening, but not great for repair.
The battery is conceivably removable at this point, but the driver is toast if you ever get it out. But no repair was ever solved by removing the battery alone. While these cells are still relatively common types, the reassembly process—thanks to specialty glue and press-fit plastic—isn’t exactly DIY-friendly.
Replacing the case batteries is a job we’re pretty confident in saying is of the “don’t try this at home” variety. We’ve spent several generations trying to get in without mangling the plastic, and this time around, we cut right next to the battery cell—our most terrifying reveal of the year. Thanks to incredible amounts of glue, we can only open the case further by carving chunks out of the plastic. An ultrasonic cutter is handy, but it is at the bottom of our repair tools list, this thing is definitely not going back together.
The Reality of AirPod Battery Replacement
So? How can you replace your batteries? Well, you can’t. And chances are, Apple isn’t even replacing your batteries either. They’re probably replacing them with new units.
Sure the AirPods you turn in might get fixed, but they’re going to be shipped back to the factory and batch processed to save a fraction of the material for reuse. And that’s for the ones that are turned in. Apple loves to claim that AirPods are recyclable, but that’s really stretching the term. The world is already awash with wish-cycling and faux-green bioplastics, to the point that ‘recyclable’ has become an empty promise. If you can only recycle them by giving them to an Apple store, and they can only recycle them by sending them across the globe to a private facility I’m not sure that’s “recyclable.”
What really happens to AirPod batteries at the end of their lives? I’d bet my lunch money that most are hanging out in the bottom of a drawer. If they do get tossed and end up with an e-recycler, they’re not likely to get out of the storage yard—AirPods are only valuable to them shredded, and they can’t shred something with a built-in battery.
How to Fix AirPods
Obviously we’d love if Apple could reclaim and reuse all of their electronics, it sounds like a logistical and carbon-intensive transportation scheme, but hey it’s better than what we’ve got. But we have another pitch. Make AirPods actually recyclable—design repairable.
We’ve talked before about Apple undervaluing wearables—they know your phone is essential to your day-to-day, but they also know that you can go without your AirPods for a while. And better yet, they can give you new airpods without your ever noticing. So they do. AirPods are fungible, and tiny, and not profitable to repair. Why spend money to fix what isn’t broken.
Well, Apple is ahead of the curve in most environmental concerns—they even made DIY repair happen—so I think they know that AirPods are broken. And I think they can fix them.
I’m willing to bet that if Apple stopped treating AirPods as disposable, 2-3-year devices, they could design them to be opened. Unscrew the earbud, remove a gasket, swap the battery, maybe even the driver, and boom. You have a product that can be serviced by anyone. That will improve its lifespan, and make recycling painless—and therefore more profitable.
It’s not as hard as you might think. Even the tiny AirTags have replaceable batteries, after all—they had to, in order to compete with Tile’s offerings. The Apple Watch isn’t the most serviceable, but it’s an incredible feat of engineering, and at least it tries. I’m confident in Apple’s design and environmental teams ability to make these changes. We just have to get marketing and the CFO’s of the world on board.
Repairable is within reach, and it can make the future sound all the sweeter.