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iPhone’s ‘Optimized Charging’ comes to AirPods with iOS 14

In context: The problem with current wireless earbuds like Apple’s AirPods is that they are more or less disposable. Once the battery dies, its game over for these listening devices because they are sealed with no way to insert new cells. Fortunately, Apple wants to prolong battery life and might be doing something about it, starting in iOS 14.

We extensively covered the changes coming to iOS 14 after Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference address on Monday. One feature not mentioned is an optimization that should prolong the battery life of your AirPods.

Everyone is well aware that, over time, lithium-ion cells degrade. Devices will have increasingly shorter run times until finally, the batteries have to be replaced. Unfortunately for AirPod owners, this means buying a new set of buds since current wireless earbud designs (not just Apple’s) do not allow for battery replacement. To minimize this problem, iOS 14 will have “Optimized Battery Charging” for AirPods.

Although hotly debated, one charging habit Apple believes chips away at the lifespan of Li-ion batteries is leaving them topped off at a 100-percent for extended periods. Currently, this is precisely how AirPods are charged. Optimized Battery Charging aims to change this by learning your charging schedule and interrupting the process just under a full charge. It will then wait to finish just before you need them.

For example, if you tend to charge your AirPods while you sleep, iOS 14 will recognize this and pause charging once it reaches 80 percent. It will then wait until close to your wakeup time. Charging will resume with it timed to hit 100 percent just before taking them off the charger.

If your charging habits are random, the system will have difficulty nailing down your schedule. However, given enough time, the machine learning should eventually find one or more patterns that fit, at least in theory.

A similar battery optimization was added to iPhones with iOS 13.5.1 and Macs in Catalina 10.15.5. The AirPods version was spotted in the developer beta of iOS 14 and pointed out on Twitter. Apple failed to mention the feature likely because it is not set in stone yet. So there is a possibility it gets cut before the operating system releases this fall. However, that is only likely if testers find a problem with it.

It is, at least, nice to see Apple finally making efforts to improve the battery life of a product that is essentially disposable once the battery is kaputt.