Jan, 22 2020
3 Minutes

Apple AirPods are wildly successful. Everyone seems to have a pair. Estimates show that revenue generated from AirPods is hitting an annual run rate in the billions. If AirPods were a startup, it’d easily be a decacorn. Not bad for a product that was widely panned by Silicon Valley (except Chris Messina, who proved prophetic) at its launch in 2016.

What lessons can we draw from a product that has infiltrated the ear canals of millions, with projections to reach tens of millions more? Here are three:

  1. Small Delights
  2. Naming Matters
  3. Real Life Virality

Small Delights

When I first started using AirPods, I noticed small delights:

  • The charging case’s magnetic snappiness
  • Seamless pairing
  • A battery indicator appearing on your iPhone when the case is opened
  • The “AirPods have graced your ears” sound when you put them in
  • Pause on removal
  • A tiny green light on the case that tells you everything is alright, and the smooth fade to orange when the AirPods return home to charge
  • Fast charging
  • The case’s smooth contours

By themselves, none of these details is enough to win you over, but in their aggregate, AirPods deliver a cascading combo of magic moments that leave you enchanted.

Stack magic moments and customers will fall for your product.

Naming Matters

Back in 2016, AirPods was a new product.

Let’s imagine for a moment that they were instead named Apple Buds.

Would the product still have taken off? Probably.

But doing so would have been a wasted opportunity.

A name is a young products’ most effective marketing weapons. It can evoke an emotion or feeling (Fast, Uber). It can be suggestive of a style or aesthetic (Warby Parker -> Hipster). It can also hint at a product’s function.

In the case of AirPods, by channeling their own history (the iPod), and mashing that with a word that previews the product’s primary value add (Air = wireless), Apple generated an iconic name that practically explains the product.

  • Apple Buds - Conveys, these are some earbuds from Apple
  • Apple AirPods - Conveys, this is some wireless device that is important for music

Names matter.

How do you pick a great name? I don’t think there’s a formula you can follow (or at least, I know of none). But here are some thoughts on good names.

  • They are easily pronounceable (for the target audience)
  • They hint at the products’ function
  • They utilize good metaphors
  • They have character

An example of a product that has all of these:

  • Stripe - uses a playful metaphor (the magnetic stripe on a credit card)  to hint at the product’s function

Character is undoubtedly the most tricky thing here, but I think it’s often the most important. Could a story be told about how a customer uses your product? Does your product’s name fit in this story? Does it flow naturally, or does it sound misplaced? If it fits, you’ve probably got a winner.

That said, here’s a process you CAN (and probably should) follow. Pick a fallback name (Apple was a fallback name) and stick with it until something better comes along. Stripe was originally called dev/payments, until one day, they figured to call themselves Stripe. When you stumble upon a name that’s so much better than the fallback, the decision to change will be effortless.

Real Life Virality

AirPods are viral. They’re bright white and stand out in a crowd. Simply by using them, AirPod owners are providing Apple with free impressions on future potential customers. Every time someone walks onto the subway wearing AirPods, someone else goes “Hmm, those AirPods are everywhere”.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if AirPod adoption is higher in places where public transportation use is high. Or, perhaps, among cohorts of people who utilize public transportation versus those who commute in solitude (i.e. driving).

Andrew Chen recently wrote about this IRL Channel of growth. It’s the phenomenon where digital products, when used in the real world, form impressions on new customers and spur further growth. This is a type of virality enjoyed by AirPods, Uber/Lyft, Amazon Echo, and others.

Is there an element of real life usage in your product? Can you accentuate it?  Red JUMP bikes stand out more than other bike share products. The neon pink Lyft mustache dashboard lights stood out more than whatever Uber was doing at that time.

Capitalize on real life virality!


The success of AirPods cannot be attributed to only these three elements (i.e. Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone!), but consider them useful tools if you’re trying to create a blockbuster product.

Happy hacking!