The Real Story Behind Apple’s Airpod Max

IMG: Elle

I’m sure that a lot of people like me have wondered how a product with such a boring and borderline sloppy design has gained as much popularity as has Apple’s Airpod Max headphones. I’m not sure if they sound good, and I honestly don’t care if they are the most amazing sounding things out there. I would never pay that much money for such a basic looking pair of ear goggles. I recently learned that this design was actually a bit of a fluke.

I was at one of the local north Brooklyn watering holes recently where I struck up a conversation with a stranger whose name I learned was Frank. It started out as small talk. As couple a brews went down the hatch we began to talk about our respective professions. It turned out that Frank worked for Apple. He had spent several years at Apple’s mega campus out west before moving to NYC. Frank (Jones is his last name) was the designer who originally came up with the idea to make the photo lenses stick out from the back of the iPhone case like pack of barnacles or a herpes cluster, rather than make the case thicker by a millimeter. That stroke of genius, he told me, was what landed him in the driver’s seat overseeing the design for a new wireless over the ear headphone that Apple had in the hopper.

Frank Jones recounted that he had been up against a deadline to present some design options for the new headphones. He had a couple of cool retro looking ideas already sketched up, but felt like he needed one more to round out the pool. As he sat brainstorming, he looked at a half eaten turkey sandwich on a ciabatta roll that was sitting on his desk. He couldn’t help but notice that a ciabatta roll was about the size of something that would fit nicely over a human ear. He thought it would be hilarious to throw into his final pitch, a design that was just a pair of ciabatta rolls hooked together with a U shaped band. Presentations to the big wigs, he said, always go over better when I add a bit of comic relief to the presentation.

Frank said that when he arrived at the presentation and started going through the deck, to his utter shock and amazement, the panel voted on the ciabatta rolls as the winning design! That’s right, Frank Jones unwittingly trolled an entire generation all because of a half eaten turkey sandwich. Nice one, Frank!!

Photo Illustration: J. Breinholt (original img: Elle)

As an interesting side note, I asked Frank what had brought him to the east coast. Apparently the wild popularity of the Airpod Max elevated Frank to a promotion over one of Apple’s more important initiatives- ensuring that its customers maintain a steady downward arc toward zero technological knowledge. The less Apple fans know about how their devices actually work and/or how to fix them without a trip to the “genius” bar, the better. Jones is currently doing R&D at the Wburg location of the Apple store where they are test-driving some new outlandish fake diagnoses and documenting the reactions of the customer to gauge the overall savvy of their customer base. For example, if someone nods understandingly when they are told that the problem with their Macbook Pro was only caused because it was a little bit low on keyboard fluid, this is taken as a sign that the program is succeeding.

Fascinating stuff that you can learn over a couple of cold ones on a random Thursday night.

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