When a company announces a new product it can often take a while before all of its features are revealed. Now that Apple’s new AirPods Max are finally available, users are uncovering its deepest secrets, including a nifty feature where you can manually put a $899 pair of wireless headphones into a low power mode using a simple pair of fridge magnets.
Another of the AirPods Max’s many innovative features is that the headphones can never actually be turned off. For ease of use they’re always powered on so users never have to waste a precious second or two waiting for them to pair with their iPhones, but that also means they’d need to be charged every day with just 20 hours of battery life. As a solution (a gross misuse of that term) Apple includes what appears to be a matching brassiere, or a mammary-inspired purse, that the headphones can slide into which automatically puts them into a low-power mode to conserve battery life.
For some unknown reason, there are AirPods Max users who aren’t fans of the included slip case, including the folks at the YouTube channel Emergent Technology. So they sought out an alternate way of activating the headphones’ low-power mode.
Their investigation started with a sheet of magnetic field viewing film which is a translucent piece of plastic covered in microcapsules filled with flakes of nickel floating in oil. In the presence of a magnetic field the nickel particles change their alignment creating dark and light patterns that reveal the presence of the magnetic fields, but the tiny magnetic sensors used to put the AirPods Max into low-power mode were too weak to be detected by the film.
The sensors’ locations had to be found using a brute force trial-and-error approach which eventually revealed their locations to be on the front edges of each ear cup. They’re sensitive enough that even a relatively weak pair of decorative fridge magnets can be detected, automatically putting the headphones into low-power mode which disconnects them from an iPhone.
But the low-power mode only stays on in the presence of the magnets, once they’re removed the headphones automatically reconnect. As a result, manually activating this mode without the case sounds like a huge pain, but it means it should be relatively easy for third-parties to make better cases for the AirPods Max, which, in case you’ve forgotten, cost $899.