Apple’s wireless AirPods and some Beats models automatically switch between devices depending on which you are using. This can be a time-saver when hopping between devices, but sometimes it doesn’t work as advertised. Here are some things to try if your AirPods won’t play ball.
Do Your AirPods Support Automatic Switching?
Not all models of AirPods (or Beats) support automatic device switching. You must be using the AirPods Pro, second or third-generation AirPods, AirPods Max headphones, Powerbeats or Powerbeats Pro earbuds, or the Beats Solo Pro headphones for this to work.
You can find out which version of AirPods you have by connecting them to your iPhone or iPad (manually if you have to) then navigating to Settings > Bluetooth and tapping the “i” button next to your AirPods. On a Mac you can do this by connecting them and then visiting System Preferences (or System Settings) > Bluetooth and clicking “Options” next to your AirPods.
Most models now support this feature, so it’s easier to list those that are unsupported. If you see A1523 and A1722 listed under Bluetooth settings, you’re using an original pair of first-generation AirPods. If you see any other model listed, you should be able to use the automatic switching feature.
It’s worth noting that you’ll also need to use Apple devices (like an iPhone, iPad, or Mac) for this to work. The feature isn’t supported on Windows PCs or Android smartphones, though you can pair your AirPods with just about any device and enjoy wireless audio.
Make Sure “Connect Automatically” Is Enabled
For this to work, you’ll need to tell your AirPods to automatically connect to each device you want to use. This setting is device-specific, so you can tell your AirPods to automatically connect to an iPhone (for example), but not a Mac.
To do this, head to Settings > Bluetooth and tap on the “i” next to your AirPods on an iPhone or iPad. Under “Connect to this iPhone/iPad” make sure “Automatic” is enabled. You can do the same on a Mac under System Preferences (or System Settings) > Bluetooth by clicking on the “Options” button next to your AirPods.
For any devices you want to use with this feature, make sure “Automatic” is selected in this box. If you want to exclude a device from connecting automatically, choose “When last connected to this <device>”. If you want to turn the feature off entirely, choose “When last connected to this <device>” on all of your Apple gadgets.
Turn Automatic Ear Detection On
For best results, turning Automatic Ear Detection on is a good idea. When your AirPods detect that they have been placed into your ear, they will switch based on the device they think you are using. Without this enabled the feature may still work, but you’ll have a better experience with it enabled. You’ll also save on battery life since your AirPods won’t be on all of the time whenever you open the case.
To do this, head to Settings > Bluetooth (on an iPhone or iPad) and tap on the “i” next to your AirPods, then toggle Automatic Ear Detection on. On a Mac head to System Preferences (or System Settings) > Bluetooth and tap on the “Options” button next to your AirPods, then toggle Automatic Ear Detection on. You only need to do this on one device.
Make Sure You’re Using the Same Apple ID on All Devices
One of the best things about AirPods and Beats headphones is how they use iCloud to sync between devices. This means that you only need to pair your AirPods on a single device (like an iPhone) for them to work on all of your devices (like a Mac or iPad). The only caveat is that you need to be sharing the same Apple ID on all devices.
This is true of automatic switching too. Your devices use iCloud to communicate and make a judgment about which device to switch to next. If you’re using a Mac with a different Apple ID than the one used on your iPhone, your AirPods won’t be able to switch between devices. AirPods can only be paired to a single Apple ID at a time.
Restart Affected Devices
If you’re sure your AirPods or Beats are compatible and you’ve checked your AirPods settings under Bluetooth but things still aren’t working, try restarting whichever devices are giving you trouble. It may be the case that your AirPods just refuse to automatically switch to your Mac, so restarting it by clicking on the Apple logo followed by “Restart” is a good idea.
The same is true of your iPhone or iPad, though the steps for restarting may vary depending on which device you have. Any software issues that you may have that are causing the problem should hopefully be resolved with a complete restart.
Make Sure Everything’s Updated
If things still aren’t working, it’s worth checking that you meet the minimum software version requirements for this feature. Automatic switching for AirPods and Beats headphones were introduced with iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and macOS 11 Big Sur. The feature just won’t work if you don’t meet these requirements.
You can check which version of iOS or iPadOS you have under Settings > General > About on an iPhone or iPad. On a Mac, click on the Apple logo and select “About This Mac” to see which version is installed.
If you don’t meet the minimum requirement, try updating your iPhone, iPad, or Mac to the latest software provided by Apple under Settings > General > Software Update (on iPhone or iPad) or System Preferences (or System Settings) > Software Update on a Mac.
If you have an older iPhone, iPad, or Mac that doesn’t support these versions then you won’t be able to use this feature. Your AirPods should automatically update to the latest firmware version when connected to a compatible device, so there’s no need to update them separately.
Unpair Your AirPods and Start Again
If you’ve tried everything else and meet all minimum requirements, try restoring your AirPods to factory settings by unpairing them. You can do this under Settings > Bluetooth by tapping the “i” button next to your AirPods, or using the “Options” button next to your AirPods under System Preferences (System Settings) > Bluetooth on a Mac.
Choose “Forget This Device” then confirm that you want to remove your AirPods from your account. Once complete your AirPods will disappear from your Apple ID (and the iCloud Find My network) completely.
Your AirPods will revert to an “as new” state and you’ll have to pair them again.
Still Not Working? Switch Manually
If you’ve tried everything and things still aren’t working, you can always switch between devices manually. To do this on an iPhone or iPad, swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen, tap on the Now Playing box, then choose your AirPods from the options beneath the play controls.
On a Mac you can click on the Control Center icon in the top-right corner of the screen, then click on the AirPlay button next to the volume slider. You can also enable the “Show Sound in menu bar” option on the Output tab under System Preferences (or System Settings) > Sound for quick switching.
You should get in touch with Apple about your issue if your AirPods are still under warranty.
PSA: Get Your AirPods Pro Tested for Defects
If you have a pair of AirPods Pro, Apple may replace the earbuds for free if they are affected (or beginning to show signs that they may be affected) by a manufacturing defect.
You can do this by taking them into an Apple Store or contacting Apple Support for a mail-in replacement.