AirPods Max don’t come with a power button to turn them off. When Apple unveiled the headphones last week, it said that instead they enter an “ultralow” power mode when inserted into the included Smart Case. That left a lot of questions about what happens to battery life when they’re left out of the Smart Case and not being actively used.
It’s been 10 days since AirPods Max were announced, and today Apple has provided some definitive and somewhat surprising answers to those questions – including details about how the Smart Case works – by quietly updating an AirPods Max support document overnight.
According to Apple, when AirPods Max are taken off but not put in their Smart Case, they enter a “low power mode” after five minutes of being left stationary. If left untouched, they remain in this low power mode for three days, after which the headphones enter an “ultralow” power state that disables Bluetooth and Find My location data to help further retain their remaining charge.
If you set your AirPods Max down and leave them stationary for 5 minutes, they go into a low power mode to preserve battery charge. After 72 stationary hours out of the Smart Case, your AirPods Max go into a lower power mode that turns off Bluetooth and Find My to preserve battery charge further.
Apple has also clarified how AirPods Max behave when placed in their Smart Case, and it turns out that the same two distinct low power states are involved, but enabled at different times. The first “low power mode” is immediately activated upon insertion, but the “ultralow” power mode doesn’t actually kick in until after 18 hours in the Smart Case.
If you put your AirPods Max in the Smart Case when you’re not using them, they go into a low power mode immediately to preserve battery charge. After 18 hours in the Smart Case, your AirPods Max go into an ultralow power mode that turns off Bluetooth and Find My and maximizes battery life.
Based on this description of the AirPods Max power-saving modes, it would appear that the headphones enter the same “low power mode” when put down and left alone for five minutes as they do when placed in the Smart Case. However, the “ultralow” power mode that activates after AirPods Max have been left for 18 hours in the Smart Case, takes a full 72 hours to kick in when they are left out of the case and not touched.
Before Apple provided the above information, tests conducted by MacRumors suggested that AirPods Max battery drains only slightly faster when left outside of the case – a difference that is likely down to the longer time it takes for the “ultralow” power mode to activate when the headphones aren’t in the Smart Case.
Putting aside queries about the seeming arbitrariness of these sleep mode activation times, the main takeaway is that in the short term at least, there’s no real power-saving advantage to be had from putting AirPods Max in the Smart Case instead of just setting them down on a desk and not touching them. However, if you don’t plan to use them again for the next 18 hours, then that’s when to put them into the Smart Case, otherwise the “ultralow” power mode will take three days to activate, by which time the battery drain is likely to be a lot more significant.
Given the confusion that has followed the power-saving features of AirPods Max, some users have speculated that Apple might be able to add a power-off functionality to the physical controls via a future software update. Is that something you would prefer over the current situation? Let us know in the comments.