Apple’s wireless AirPods and some Beats models automatically switch between devices depending on which one you’re using. This can save time when switching 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 going to Settings > Bluetooth and tapping the “i” button next to your AirPods. On a Mac, you can do this by connecting them and then going to 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 the unsupported ones. If you see A1523 and A1722 listed under Bluetooth settings, you are using an original pair of first-generation AirPods. If you see a different model in the list, you should be able to use the automatic shifting function.
It’s worth noting that you’ll also need to use Apple devices (such as an iPhone, iPad, or Mac) for this. The feature is not supported on Windows PCs or Android smartphones, although you can pair your AirPods with almost any device and enjoy wireless audio†
Make sure “Connect Automatically” is turned on
For this to work, you need to tell your AirPods to automatically connect to any 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, go to Settings > Bluetooth and tap the “i” next to your AirPods on an iPhone or iPad. Under “Connect to this iPhone/iPad”, make sure that “Automatic” is turned on. You can do the same on a Mac under System Preferences (or System Settings) > Bluetooth by clicking the “Options” button next to your AirPods.
Make sure “Automatic” is selected in this box for all the devices you want to use with this feature. To exclude a device from connecting automatically, choose Connect last to this
Enable automatic ear detection
For best results, it’s a good idea to turn on Automatic Ear Detection. When your AirPods detect they’re placed in your ear, they’ll switch based on the device they think you’re using. If it is not enabled, the feature may still work, but you will have a better experience if it is enabled. You’ll also save on battery life because your AirPods aren’t always on when you open the case.
To do this, go to Settings > Bluetooth (on an iPhone or iPad) and tap the “i” next to your AirPods, then enable Automatic Ear Detection. On a Mac, go to System Preferences (or System Settings) > Bluetooth and tap 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 use 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 one device (like an iPhone) for them to work on all your devices (like a Mac or iPad). The only caveat is that you must share the same Apple ID on all devices.
This also applies to automatic shifting. Your devices use iCloud to communicate and make judgments about which device to switch to. If you’re using a Mac with a different Apple ID than the one on your iPhone, your AirPods won’t be able to switch between devices. AirPods can only be associated with one Apple ID at a time.
Restart affected devices
If you are sure that your AirPods or Beats are compatible and you have checked your AirPods settings under Bluetooth but it still doesn’t work, try restarting the devices that are giving you problems. Your AirPods may simply refuse to switch to your Mac automatically, so it’s a good idea to restart it by clicking the Apple logo followed by “Restart”.
The same goes for your iPhone or iPad, although the Restart steps may vary depending on what device you have† Any software glitches causing the problem should hopefully be resolved with a full reboot.
Make sure everything is updated
If it still doesn’t work, it’s worth checking that you meet the minimum software version requirements for this feature. Auto-switching for AirPods and Beats headphones was introduced with iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and macOS 11 Big Sur. The feature simply 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 the Apple logo and select “About This Mac” to see which version is installed†
If you don’t meet the minimum requirement, try update your iPhone† iPador mac to the latest software from 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, 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 you don’t need to update them separately.
Unplug your AirPods and start over
If you’ve tried everything else and meet all the minimum requirements, try factory resetting your AirPods by unpairing them. You can do this under Settings > Bluetooth by tapping the “i” button next to your AirPods, or via the “Options” button next to your AirPods under System Preferences > Bluetooth on a Mac.
Choose “Forget This Device” and then confirm that you want to remove your AirPods from your account. When you’re done, your AirPods will disappear from your Apple ID (and the iCloud Find My Network) fully.
Your AirPods will return to “as new” status and you need to pair them again†
Still not working? Manual shifting
If you’ve tried everything and it still doesn’t work, 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 the Now Playing box, then choose your AirPods from the options below the playback controls.
On a Mac, you can click the Control Center icon in the top right corner of the screen and then click the AirPlay button next to the volume slider. You can also enable the “Show sound in menu bar” option in the Output tab under System Preferences (or System Settings) > Sound to toggle quickly.
If your AirPods are still under warranty, please contact Apple about your issue.
PSA: Have your AirPods Pro tested for defects
If you own a pair of AirPods Pro, Apple can replace the earbuds for free if they are compromised (or begin to show signs that they may be compromised) due to a manufacturing defect.
You can do this by take them to an Apple Store or contact Apple Support for a replacement via email†