Whenever Apple introduces new products, enterprising third-party hardware-makers dream up new ways to accessorize and augment them. With Apple’s minimalist MacBook line, there are dongles and plug-in accessories to restore functionality lost by their lack of ports. For the iPhone, there are cases, chargers, and stands designed to protect and showcase your device, as well as plug-in accessories like microphones or card-readers that improve its capabilities. For the Apple Watch, there are stands and a range of third-party straps available. AirPods, Apple’s wireless speaker-computers that it debuted in 2016, are no exception—except for their inherent awkwardness. Some likened their appearance to a tampon without a string, while others mocked how easily they could get lost. While many AirPods accessories are well-designed and offer needed utility, there is still something that’s just a little off in most cases.
The latest AirPods accessory to gain notice is a perfect example: It’s a wrist-strap holster for storing your AirPods, which can be worn alone or paired with an Apple Watch strap. AirPods are small and relatively easy to misplace (so much so that Apple added a “Find My AirPods” function in iOS 10.3). They’re also a product you tend to use on-the-go. This wrist strap makes it so that you don’t need to dig through a purse or bag to find them and allows a simple way to carry them if you don’t want to also carry their charging case. However, it looks ridiculous—or as the Verge put it, “goofy as heck.” Elago, the company behind the product, makes a variety of other electronics accessories, including good-looking iPhone cases and charging hubs, but even with a fine leather patina, a pair of white AirPods strapped to a wrist is ungainly. This product was doomed to awkwardness from the beginning.
Other AirPods accessories land similarly. There are a number of cases that secure your AirPods to a keychain. These come in varieties such as brown leather, red silicon, and even a black zippered pouch. This is a logical way to keep your AirPods close by and securely stored, but there’s still something inherently unsophisticated about it. An adult’s keychain is for keys, and maybe a Tile or some pepper spray; it’s not a replacement for a pocket or tote bag.
Perhaps the best-looking and least awkward AirPods accessories are straps and over-ear adapters that give the device a more snug, secure fit. Unlike in-ear headphones, which offer different-size tips to ensure a proper fit regardless of your ear size, AirPods are one-size-fits-all; for some, that fit is too big, too small, or just uncomfortable. A strap like Spigen’s barebones TEKA AirPods strap offers peace of mind against an AirPod popping out and getting lost mid-run, while EarBuddyz wraps Apple’s buds in white or black silicon for a more snug fit. Still, while they offer the benefits of an over-ear style, products like PodGrips still land in the uncanny valley of AirPods accessories.
None of these ideas are bad. In fact, most of them offer significant utility and address specific pain points, such as preventing the devices from being lost, keeping them conveniently close by, or better securing them during outdoor or physical activities. However, these products still have the distinct feeling of a 21st-century pocket protector: While useful, you may as well have a sign that says “NERD” plastered to your forehead. Perhaps it’s all a matter of perspective—the idea of toting around a smartphone in a case 24/7 took some years to catch on, and in the world of consumer electronics AirPods (and wireless earbuds in general) are a relatively new category. While at first they seemed only worn by the Google Glass crowd, they’re becoming more mainstream. It could be that the only reason these products seem “off” is because they’re a sight we’re not yet used to seeing. Perhaps in a year or two the idea of strapping a pair of tampons without a string to a wrist, keychain, or necklace won’t seem so absurd. But now is not that time.