Apple's released its long-awaited AirPods update yesterday, and they're already shaping up to be at least as big of a hit as the original version, with shipping dates slipping into April only hours after they went on sale. While some of that may simply be pent-up demand — after all, it's been almost three years since we've seen a new version — there's still really no doubt that Apple's wireless earbuds continue to be a hit even with only modest improvements.
Still, should you pull the trigger on Apple's latest AirPods? Of course, if you've been waiting to jump in, this may be a good time, but if you already own the first-generation AirPods — and after being on the market for two years, there's a good chance you do — there are some interesting new features here, but the upgrade may not be as compelling. Continue reading to learn more about what's actually new in Apple's latest AirPods, and some reasons why you may still want to hold off on taking the plunge.
The marquee feature for Apple's new AirPods is the addition of wireless charging support, bringing something that was rumoured to be in the works well over a year ago. To Apple's credit, it also appears to have done this right; while there had been some speculation that the new AirPods wireless charging would only be supported by Apple's soon-to-be-released AirPower, it will actually work with any Qi-compatible charger, rather than being dependent on a proprietary charger like the Apple Watch.
If you're a fan of wireless charging — and who isn't these days? — then that alone may tip the scales in favour of buying the new AirPods. Of course, if you already own the original AirPods and you're only looking for wireless charging, Apple is selling the wireless charging case by itself for $79, so wireless charging by itself shouldn't be a compelling reason to upgrade.
The other big feature that the new AirPods introduce is support for voice-activated Siri. While you could still use the original AirPods to talk to Siri, this required you to physically tap the AirPods to call up the voice assistant. The new "H1" chip in the new AirPods, combined with Apple's efforts to make its voice recognition more accurate, should now allow users to reliably activate Siri by voice in order to change songs, make calls, or do pretty much anything else without missing a beat while working out.
More Listening Time
Apple manages to squeeze a bit more battery life out of its products with almost every new release, and its new AirPods are no exception. Since there's no room in the wireless earbuds for a bigger battery, Apple has instead focused on creating an even more power-efficient chip, providing an extra hour of listening time. This means you'll get five hours of listening out of a single charge, rather than four, but if the AirPods are dead, a 15-minute recharge in the case will still only get you back up to three hours of listening time, unchanged from the original version.
Personally, we can't say that we've ever found the four-hour listening time to be insufficient — especially since we keep our AirPods in the charging case anytime they're not in use — but if you've ever found your listening or talk time on your AirPods to be insufficient, that extra hour may be compelling. Plus, if you're a power user who has your AirPods since they first came out, chances are that your battery life has diminished even further.
This one is something that we'll probably need to experience to fully appreciate, but Apple is promising that it's H1 chip will deliver faster connection times, and lower audio latency. Specifically, Apple is saying that the new AirPods will connect to phone calls 1.5 times faster, switch devices twice as fast, and provide a 30 percent reduction in gaming latency. Like battery life, however, this is the sort of thing that will only matter if you've found your current AirPods too slow in these areas, and it's certainly not a complaint that we've ever had.
They're Still Not Waterproof
Despite rumours that Apple would be adding waterproofing, there appears to have been no change in this area from the original AirPods. You won't need to worry about light rain or workouts, but you still may want to be careful about using them in a downpour or near swimming pools or lakes.
Same Old Design
There had also been rumours of design changes — even something as basic as a new "grippier" coating — and the possibility of new colors. However, the second-generation AirPods appear to be physically identical to the original version in every way, and remain available only in white. While we have yet to see the new AirPods in person, it looks like you probably won't even be able to tell them apart from the original 2016 model. If you've been hoping for a design change, this isn't it.
Actual "AirPods 2" May Still Be On The Horizon
There have been a lot of seemingly-conflicting rumours of new AirPods over the past few months, but when put together, it seems that the most likely reason for this apparent incongruity is that the rumours have been talking about two entirely different models of AirPods. The version Apple released this week is a relatively minor update to its original 2016 AirPods, adding a few useful new features but still preserving the same design.
However, there have been many additional rumours of things like design changes, new colors, waterproofing, and health monitoring features — too many rumours in fact to believe that Apple isn't already working on an "AirPods 2" or "AirPods Pro" version.
Some reports have suggested that these could arrive as soon as this fall, but with Apple having just released the second-generation AirPods, this may be too soon. Either that, or the next model will be a premium version that carries a higher price tag, creating a second tier of AirPods.
If you were hoping that the new AirPods would offer more, it may be a good idea to wait until the fall to see what else Apple comes up with, but if the company does release another set of AirPods this year — and that's still a big "if" — it's almost guaranteed that you'll be paying more for them as well.