- Google Pixel Buds Pros do AirPod-style auto switching between devices.
- Any third-party makers can add Fast Paring to their headphones.
- Chromebook will add the feature in a future update.
Google’s Android is finally set to copy one of AirPods’ most useful tricks—automatic switching between connected devices.
Wireless is supposed to make things easier, and when it does, it’s great. But it ended up making things more complicated. Instead of just unplugging your headphones from your laptop and plugging them into your phone, now we have to re-pair the Bluetooth connection, or at least find a control panel to swap it. Now, Google has added Auto Switching to Android and the Pixel Buds Pro, something AirPods users have enjoyed for years.
“Apple products are designed from the ground up to work together seamlessly, with each piece of hardware carefully engineered to complement the software. In contrast, Android devices are often built by different manufacturers, each with their own take on the operating system,” Oberon Copeland, tech writer, owner, and CEO of the Very Informed website, told Lifewire via email.
“As a result, there can be a discrepancy between how well the hardware and software work together.”
Devices in an ‘Ecosystem’
One of the best features of the Apple system is that it makes both the hardware and the software. This makes it possible to add incredible features that would be difficult or impossible if they had to be implemented between various companies’ products.
One example is the automatic AirPods connection. If you pick up your iPhone while wearing your AirPods, it will connect to your iPhone. If you switch to your iPad instead, so does the connection. In theory, at least. Sometimes the connection refuses to switch, but even then, a quick visit to the Control Center’s AirPlay menu takes care of it manually.
“I am constantly making work-related phone calls and taking video meetings across my various devices. The time it would take to unpair, and re-pair headphones is not significant, but it quickly becomes a major inconvenience when you are constantly jumping devices. The ability to seamlessly switch my AirPods between Apple devices has proven to be more of a time-saver than I could have imagined,” Choice Mutual CEO and AirPods power user Anthony Martin told Lifewire via email.
This kind of deep integration is key to the Apple experience, but it is no longer exclusive to iDevices and Macs.
Android Catches Up
Google makes both Android and the soon-to-be-on-sale Pixel Buds Pro, which means that it also has the level of control necessary to do the same trick Apple does. In Google’s case, the trick uses Fast Pair, available on Android 6.0 and newer phones.
Often, when Apple adds a new feature to the iPhone, Android users mutter that they’ve had the same thing for years. Lock-screen widgets, always-on displays (rumored to be coming to the iPhone this fall), and so on. But this time, it’s Android that’s playing catch-up. Fast Pair is pretty much an exact copy of the AirPods experience.
Open the Pixel Buds near your Android phone, and you’ll be prompted to pair them. Once paired, you can see battery levels and play a sound to help find lost buds. And now, you can switch devices, and your Pixel Buds connection will follow along.
Because Apple makes and sells the whole shebang, only AirPods (or Apple-owned Beats headphones) can take advantage of these features. With Android, Google’s hardware is only one of many alternatives. For example, Harmon Kardon is also set to launch a pair of Fast Pairing wireless earbuds, the FLY TWS. It’s not hard to imagine that Fast Pairing will become a standard on all non-AirPods wireless headphones in the future.
And now the downside. Fast Pairing currently lets you switch between Android tablets and phones. But Android ceded the tablet market to the iPad years ago, and anyone serious about tablet computing uses either an iPad, or perhaps a Microsoft Surface tablet. What’s the point of fast switching between devices if you only have a phone?
The other part of this equation will be solved “soon,” says Google, when Fast Pairing comes to Chromebooks, which are used by a ton of people who have Android phones. When this happens, the feature will be truly useful, and rival Apple’s AirPods/Mac integration.
The one thing we won’t know until Android’d Fast Pair gets widespread use is whether it works. As mentioned, Apple’s tight integration of hardware and software is the key to its success. Will Fast Pairing, which will be adopted and used by many different manufacturers, actually be reliable? Who knows? But even if it’s not, it’s still going to be better than what Android users have right now.
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