AirPods Max vendors call it a niche product

A supply chain report claims that AirPods Max suppliers consider Apple’s premium on-ear headphones to be a niche product with strong competition from existing gamers.

Two printed circuit board (PCB) vendors are reportedly not expecting the new headphones to give their sales a big boost …

Digitimes has the report.

Taiwanese PCB makers aren’t expecting much from Apple’s newly released on-ear headphones, the AirPods Max, which they believe are aimed at a relatively small niche market segment, according to industry sources.

Compeq Manufacturing and Unitech, which have been shipping rigid and flexible boards for AirPods devices, are said to be suppliers of PCBs for Apple’s new headphones, the sources said. [They] They do not expect a significant increase in their AirPods Max sales, reasoning that on-ear headphones position themselves as a niche segment with higher prices but a smaller market scale compared to headphones, the sources said.

Suppliers of traditional headphone brands, including JBL, Sony and Bose, are firmly in the leading group in terms of market share in the headphone segment, the sources noted.

Unsurprisingly, both cited AirPods Max vendors declined to comment.

While the report is probably correct, a couple of points are worth making here. First, for the big PCB vendors, no over-the-ear headphones account for a notable percentage of their output, so this is more of a comment on the category than Apple’s entry into it.

Second, history tells us that the world tends to underestimate Apple’s capabilities every time the company enters a new product category. Microsoft laughed when Apple launched the iPhone; Swiss watch companies were equally disparaging of the Apple Watch; few predicted the immense popularity of internal AirPods. It’s true that premium on-ear headphones are a relatively niche product, but if any company can effectively compete with established brands, it is Apple.

Apple also has a demonstrated willingness to sell niche products where that makes sense in the context of its entire lineup. The Mac Pro and its companion display is the obvious example here, but the original HomePod also seems to fall into this category, and there are strong indications that the same is true to a lesser extent with the iPhone 12 mini. I argued that Apple is taking the same approach here as with HomePods.

Early AirPods Max reviews have been generally optimistic (aside from the case), but the elephant in the room is that they have said relatively little about audio quality so far. Most have so far focused on design, comfort, and noise cancellation.

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