At the iPhone 7 launch event, Apple said the new AirPods had been specially designed for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, and come with a brand new W1 wireless chip, leading many to believe that the wireless earphones only work with the new iPhone models.
Apple also used the term "Bluetooth-like" technology, once again confusing matters about what connectivity standard the AirPods used. Things started becoming clearer soon after however, with the product's listing page detailing the use of Bluetooth (version not specified), as well as compatibility with other iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch models.
Specifically, the AirPods are compatible with iPhone 5 and newer devices, iPad mini 2 and new devices, iPad Air and newer devices, and the iPod touch 6th generation. By the omission of older models, this very plainly indicates that the AirPods work with devices running iOS 10. Apple also includes Apple Watch models in the list of compatible devices.
(Also see: Apple AirPods First Impressions)
Providing some clarity in an interview with BuzzFeed however, Apple executives went on to detail that apart from iOS 10 devices, AirPods work with watchOS 3 and macOS Sierra devices. They also clarified that while the AirPods use Bluetooth, Apple has used "secret sauce" to make the pairing seamless via the W1 wireless chip, and provide features like tap to change songs. The publication goes on to note the devices work with non-Apple devices, but, do not get the "secret sauce" features.
(Also see: Apple Is Betting Big on a Wireless World)
So, now that we know the AirPods use Bluetooth to connect and stream audio; they are fully compatible work with Apple devices running the latest operating systems, and, that they work with non-Apple devices, only one question remains - how do you pair them with non-Apple devices?
Thankfully, Daring Fireball's John Gruber and TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino have weighed in, revealing that the AirPods carrying + charging case in fact features a small button on the rear panel. This button resets all active connections, and presumably leaves the AirPods open to pairing with other Bluetooth devices. To explain just how exactly this works, we will have to wait for October when the new AirPods go on sale.