An Ode to the Volume Swipe

An Ode to the Volume Swipe
Photo by Jonas Vandermeiren / Unsplash

I said my second post would be another "meta" post, but I lied. The truth is that it's late at night here in London and after a few hour delay launching this site earlier today (thanks for the help, Ghost), and during a "midnight feed" of a baby, I found myself thinking about the AirPods...1

Specifically, how truly great the volume swiping mechanism is on the AirPods Pro. This must be my most-used gesture in life beyond perhaps swiping up to unlock my phone. I have AirPods in my ears a good percentage of the day and I'm constantly swiping up or down on the stems to raise or lower the volume of whatever I'm listening to. It's so handy, literally. It's done so casually now that it's second-nature.

Yes, music and podcasts, but I also listen to nearly everything thanks to services like Matter.2 And I also have the AirPods in right now, listening to things on my MacBook Air as I type this post. And I also increasingly have them in while watching TV at night – this is perhaps the single best feature of Apple TV, how easy it is to pair your AirPods – and they work brilliantly for that too. Is the movie or show too loud? Swipe, swipe, swipe. Do I want to pause it? Click.

It's something so simple. And yes, I know other headphones do this. But Apple just absolutely nailed this little gesture in these little devices. I love the dial on the AirPods Max, but it's almost the opposite of this – a grandiose gesture that's trying to be just as clever (borrowing from the Apple Watch) as it is useful. It's nice. But it's not as functional as the swipes here.

I still vividly recall being a teenager carrying around a Sony Walkman (the cassette tape variety, not a Discman, for shame), and constantly having my hands wrapped around the thing to get ready to pause/rewind/fast-forward and yes, alter the volume. It was a pain that we couldn't have known at the time. After all, we were walking around listening to music in our pocket – well, in our hands, or on our belt clips – how magical! Now we have literally every song in the world in our pockets which we listen to via these little earbuds that have high fidelity music beamed to them over thin air. It's like performing some sort of magic spell to use your fingers to make it loud or to make it stop. Or to press and hold to hear the world better around you. Or to make it fade away. Technology really is incredible.

Anyway, seem like an appropriate type of ode ahead of the Vision Pro, where finger gestures are about to become even more of the thing.3 The main thing, in fact.

1 I suspect I'll be writing a number of these quick, late night posts. In part thanks to the aforementioned baby. But also because I have always just preferred writing at night. When the house is quiet. I'm a night owl who longs to return to my nest, but doesn't long to be an empty-nester. And not to worry, I have something like a decade of early morning wake-up calls left to savor...

2 My first Spyglass disclosure -- how exciting! Through my role at GV, I'm an investor in Matter. Just because I'm biased, doesn't mean I'm lying: it's my most-used app. I use it to save and listen to nearly everything I read. It's wonderful. And I've been doing this for years, well before Matter came along. It's just better now.

3 There's also the new-ish finger/hand controls for the Apple Watch. I like these gestures (finger taps) and use them at times where my broader hands are tied up. But it's not quite as used day-to-day as I might have thought originally.