Amazon's new Echo Buds seemingly share a lot of similarities with Apple's AirPods at first glance: they're both truly wireless, meaning there's no cable connecting the two earbuds, and they can both be used to communicate with virtual assistants hands-free. Both pairs of earbuds can also automatically pause music when you remove one bud from your ear, and they both come in a charging case.
But Amazon doesn't necessarily see Apple's AirPods as a threat — largely because the products target different audiences, according to Miriam Daniel, Amazon's vice president of Alexa and Echo devices. Apple's $160 AirPods may be optimized for all-day usage, but the Echo Buds' noise cancellation makes them more ideal for audiophiles and frequent travelers, says Daniel.
"What we're optimizing for with the Echo Buds is great-sounding music," Daniel said to Business Insider. "And once you get the right fit, it produces great music and that is what we were going for, which you don't get with a hybrid design, in an unsealed design. So there are different types of customers and different use cases you optimize for."
Amazon's Echo Buds, which the company announced on Wednesday, are $130 wireless earbuds that work with Alexa. They use Bose's active-noise-reduction technology and a sealed design to drown out background noise when in use. Amazon's new earbuds also support a pass-through mode, which as its name implies makes nearby sound audible while you're listening to music so you can remain aware of your surroundings. Unlike AirPods, you can also trigger other virtual assistants on your phone through the Echo Buds, and Amazon will be launching a feature that can help people wearing Echo Buds find specific products within Whole Foods through Alexa.
Still, regardless of how Amazon views the industry, there's no denying that Apple's AirPods have proven to be a hit since they launched in 2016. Apple claimed 60% of the global market for truly wireless earbuds in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to data published by Counterpoint Research, far surpassing rivals like JBL, Jabra, Sony, and Samsung among others.
Apple is also readying a new version of its AirPods with noise-cancelling technology and water resistance for "a launch planned by next year," according to Bloomberg.
In its most recent earnings report, Apple said that its wearables, home, and accessories division, which includes AirPods and the Apple Watch among other products, is outpacing its iPad business and is slowly catching up to the Mac.
While Daniel says there's plenty that distinguishes the Echo Buds from AirPods, Apple's success doesn't seem to be lost on Amazon.
"They kind of moved the headphone industry along by going for true wireless," Daniel said. "So totally they get credit for that. But I think there are different products in the industry optimized for different use cases."