Apple AirPods are supposed to work for iOS devices, Apple Watches and Macs. Apple states that the OS requirements are:

Requires iCloud account and macOS Sierra, iOS 10, or watchOS 3 (source).

I am a prospective buyer of AirPods. My question is what the experience is like, when using the same pair of AirPods to switch between an iOS device and a Mac.

  • How is pairing/switching done?
  • Can the experience be called “seamless”?
  • Are there any caveats that should be known from a user-perspective?

Note: This is not a buying recommendation question, the goal is to produce an objective description of the pairing/switching process between iOS/macOS devices.

  • 2
    As long as you have courage.
    – owlswipe
    Sep 21, 2016 at 11:02
  • I'm tempted to edit out seamless since that's causing subjective opinion to enter the answers this as opposed to "objective" description. this probably needs to be split into "how does pairing work between AirPods and multiple devices" and how does switching work between AirPods and multiple devices" - having one question per question works best here.
    – bmike
    Dec 28, 2016 at 15:15
  • Also works with Apple TV, 4th generation. But perhaps not automatically. See this Question: Which Apple TV generations support the use of AirPods? Feb 3, 2017 at 2:42

6 Answers 6


They will have seamless switching as of iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur.

When your other devices are signed in with the same Apple ID as your iPhone, AirPods automatically switch between your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac. For example, if you’re listening to another device with your AirPods but you want to listen to your iPhone instead, start playing music, a podcast, or other audio on your iPhone. Your AirPods switch to iPhone automatically. Your AirPods also switch to iPhone when you make or answer a call on iPhone.

More details here: https://support.apple.com/guide/iphone/switch-airpods-automatically-iph08b253c17/ios

  • 1
    That’s awesome news! This was basically my only complaint with AirPods.
    – brismuth
    Oct 18, 2020 at 4:22
  • In case the disappointingly poor implementation of automatic AirPod switching in Big Sur / iOS 14 has been driving anyone else insane, here's how to disable it: support.apple.com/guide/iphone/…
    – brismuth
    Dec 3, 2020 at 0:16
  • It's certainly not seamless for me. I have to go into the BT menu on the device I want to use and force the buds to connect. Then they stay connected to that device (iPhone or MacBook) until I repeat the process. I'm on iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur. And particularly annoying, if I'm listening to music on my MacBook and I do anything on the phone the music stops. So it only seems to vagely work if you only use one device at a time. Feb 3, 2021 at 21:32

I'm an AirPods user and so far I have not found them to switch seamlessly between my 2016 MacBook Pro and iPhone 7 Plus.

The switching is manual: select AirPods on the MacBook Pro, or connect Bluetooth on the iPhone. If a call comes through on the iPhone whilst on a Skype call on the MacBook Pro, you will have to pick up on the phone.

The "simultaneous" promise, so far, is marketing BS. Maybe it will work in a future software/firmware release.

  • Isn't the simultaneous connection technically true in the current implementation? I get the "BS" attribution if you feel Apple is saying they switch automatically - I don't read that in their marketing, but I can't say you're wrong if that's your take from the brief words or your impression of the larger marketing campaign.
    – bmike
    Dec 28, 2016 at 15:42
  • 3
    @bmike They do apparently switch to your watch automagically, but not so much the Mac. At least that's what I'm getting from this iMore post. I could've sworn the keynote pitched the AirPods as swapping seamlessly from iPhone to Mac myself. I may have misheard, but that doesn't appear to be the case.
    – ruffin
    Jan 5, 2017 at 21:40
  • I've now had the AirPods for about 6 months. While there were some pretty obvious limitations right from the start I do agree with you. I would definitely not call the experience 'seamless' because the UX is too stupid still. I have a huge list of feature improvements I'd like, but the ability to switch to the iPhone via the flick of a Mac GUI button when there's an incoming call would be good. Answering incoming iPhone (Facetime) calls on the Mac is pretty useless because the AirPod microphone SCO codec sucks.
    – P A N
    Aug 2, 2017 at 12:43
  • @John, I had the same experience as you did initially. And then I remembered that some recent Apple features (e.g. Handoff) require that iCloud be enabled before they work, and figured that automatic switching of Airpods might require it as well. Voila, automatic switching works as soon as I enabled iCloud on my mac. (I don't like it that iCloud must be enabled for this feature to work, and that Apple didn't mention it anywhere. But hopefully this solves your problem.)
    – Haozhun
    Nov 8, 2021 at 6:51

iOS 13 Update: Quickly connect to AirPods in control center by force touching Bluetooth and selecting AirPods.

“Seamless” switching

AirPods allow for "Seamless switching" because you can easily connect Device B without disconnecting the AirPods from Device A (unlike other Bluetooth headphones/speakers).

How to switch AirPods between devices signed into your Apple ID

  • Airplay in apps that support it
  • iPhone Control Center: Swipe up (or down from top right), force touch on the now playing widget in the top right (or wait for the airplay icon and click that)
  • iPhone Bluetooth: Force Touch "Settings", select Bluetooth
  • Mac Bluetooth in Menu Bar: System Preferences → Bluetooth → "Show Bluetooth in Menu Bar"
  • Mac Sound in Menu Bar: System Preferences → Sound → "Show Volume in Menu Bar"
  • Apple TV (inside apps that support it): Swipe down from top and select “Audio”
  • Apple TV (alternative): Hold Play/Pause button (in “TV”/“menu” view)
  • Apple TV Settings: Open Settings, remotes and devices, Bluetooth
  • Apple Watch: Tap the AirPlay icon in the control center

It’s clearly not a perfect process, but Apple has to balance simplicity with functionality and I don’t think they foresee users constantly switching devices.

  • 1
    "iPhone Control Center: Swipe Up, select AirPods" … uhhh … No. There is no AirPods option in the control center on iPhone. You have to wait for an AirPlay icon to appear on the "Now Playing" card. Then tap that icon. Then wait some more as the list of items updates to eventually show you "AirPods". So, swipe up, wait, tap, wait, tap, wait for AirPods to switch. Mar 27, 2019 at 7:19
  • 1
    @BasilBourque thanks for the feedback! Agree it wasn’t explained well - updated. It’s not a perfect process but Apple is focused on simplicity and I don’t think they expect users to constantly be switching devices.
    – JBallin
    Mar 27, 2019 at 15:49

Directly from the Apple AirPods product page:

Automatic setup. Seamless switching. AirPods connect automatically with all your Apple devices. They’re simultaneously connected to your iPhone and Apple Watch, and sound switches instantly between the devices. Want to listen to your Mac or iPad? Just choose AirPods on those devices.1

  1. Requires iCloud account and macOS Sierra, iOS 10, or watchOS 3.

AirPods have the same Bluetooth technology as your iPhone / Apple Watch. They connect automatically with your Mac as the iOS devices do. On your Mac you just change 'Speakers' to AirPods.

This is a big hunch: iPhone is paired with your Apple Watch / AirPods and communicates with your iCloud account to your Mac to 'trust' these devices.

  • 1
    Thanks, I read that too. Maybe I should rephrase the question title to better reflect the questions near the end of the OP. I.e. how is it done, is it objectively seamless and are there any caveats that users should know that isn't represented in Apple's marketing material?
    – P A N
    Sep 21, 2016 at 8:59
  • 2
    The only thing you should be worried about is if you have non mac devices as it's still uncertain if a) they work with 3rd party hardware and b) howmany devices they can pair with.
    – rwzdoorn
    Sep 21, 2016 at 9:03
  • 10
    For me it does not work as expected. I want to use AirPods to listen to music on my MacBook via iTunes and when my iPhone rings I want to use them to speak on the phone. But therefor I have to go into Bluetooth settings on my iPhone to connect them first :( Dec 20, 2016 at 11:39
  • @ThomasEinwaller is there a solution to this matter?
    – Macmaniman
    Dec 25, 2016 at 19:09
  • 2
    This should not be the accepted answer. Jan 9, 2018 at 3:18

It’s not as seamless as switching from an iOS device to an Apple Watch. AirPods have to be manually switched from iOS to Mac. You can do this from the Bluetooth menu on the Mac. I also develop an app called ToothFairy that makes this easier. It lets you quickly switch your Mac to the AirPods by clicking an icon in the menu bar or by pressing a hotkey. It makes the process more seamless by showing you whether the AirPods are corrected and by automatically retrying if connecting fails the first time.


I think you'll probably find that your devices need to have Bluetooth 4 in order for the AirPods to work seamlessly. That would be the same list of devices as can fully support Continuity -- broadly speaking, anything that was first released in mid 2011 or later.

  • 1
    According to MacTracker, the mid 2011 iMacs do not have Bluetooth 4.0.
    – Mike Scott
    Sep 21, 2016 at 10:15
  • You can use Airfoil to send the audio to a Bluetooth 4.0 compatible Mac, and then connect the AirPods to that Mac. This is the way I listen to AirPods on my 2011 iMac via my MacBook Pro.
    – P A N
    Mar 27, 2017 at 16:26

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