Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro have been runaway hits, which has made the company’s Beats brand of headphones and earphones seem a little bit neglected by comparison, but now it looks like another new set of Beats earphones could be just around the corner.
To be fair, Apple did release Powerbeats Pro shortly after the debut of its second-generation AirPods, bringing its new H1 chip and the accompanying “Hey Siri” support to a set of true wireless earphones that were clearly more aimed at fitness enthusiasts. While there were some other valid reasons to choose them over AirPods, including better style, fit, and comfort, they also had a higher asking price, weren’t nearly as portable, and omitted the wireless charging feature introduced on the second-gen AirPods.
The comfort, fit, and price differences became less of an issue when Apple released the AirPods Pro last fall, making it a tougher call as to which ones to buy. Around the same time, however, we also began hearing rumours that Apple was working on Powerbeats4, a more direct update to its older Powerbeats3 wireless earbuds.
At the time, it occurred to us that this might be an attempt by Apple to level the playing field a bit on the Beats side by bringing its new H1 chip to a set of Beats earbuds that could be sold at a more reasonable price than the premium Powerbeats Pro. The Powerbeats3 already include Apple’s older W1 chip, but its safe to say that Apple has basically moved on from that era and wants to get as many H1-equipped headphones out there as possible, since the H1 chip powers a number of useful iOS 13 features, including “Hey Siri” and the ability to have Siri announce incoming messages, none of which are possible on the older W1-equipped versions.
When Apple released iOS 13.3.1 at the end of last month, investigative developers quickly found that it included hidden icons depicting the Powerbeats4, featuring a new design reflective of the Powerbeats Pro while clearly showing a wire descending from the bottom. While the Powerbeats3 are wireless Bluetooth headphones, they’re not “true wireless” in that they use a wire to tether the two earpieces together, and it seems reasonable that the Powerbeats4 will follow suit.
Now, MacRumors has discovered that Apple just received FCC approval for a new set of wireless earphones that carry a model number of A2015 and a description of “Power Beats Wireless.” So despite rumours of AirPods Pro Lite earbuds and Apple-branded over-ear headphones, it’s clear that this is neither of those.
As MacRumors points out, FCC filings usually occur within days of a new Apple product release, so the Powerbeats4 could appear any day now. While Apple could hold off the announcement for a March event, the Powerbeats4 aren’t expected to be anything more than an upgraded version of Powerbeats3 that feature the H1 chip, and Apple seemed quite content to bring out its flagship AirPods and AirPods Pro via nothing more than press releases last year, so it’s doubtful that they’d give any stage time to a product that’s much less significant by comparison, and not even part of the mainline Apple brand.
But There’s More…
There have also been rumours that the company is also working on its own set of Apple-branded over-ear headphones, which would be expected to sell for around $399, and an even more mysterious new set of AirPods that some supply chain sources are inscrutably referring to as ”AirPods Pro Lite.” Either or both of these could get some stage time if Apple is truly planning a March event after all, in which case an anecdotal mention of the new Powerbeats4 might also be appropriate.
That said, though, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around both of these rumoured products. It’s unclear exactly what an Apple-branded set of headphones would bring to the table that Beats doesn’t already offer, although it’s perhaps telling that Apple updated the on-ear Beats Solo Pro with the H1 chip last fall, but hasn’t given that treatment to the over-ear Beats Studio product line. So perhaps it’s saving that for its own first-tier Apple over-ear headphones.
The “AirPods Pro Lite” are an even bigger mystery right now, since it’s sort of hard to figure out where these would fit in the lineup. They could be a set of AirPods Pro without active noise cancellation, offering a better fit and passive noise isolation, but there’s not a lot of pricing room between the standard AirPods and the AirPods Pro right now as it is, and it hardly seems like Apple’s style to produce another set of AirPods that could muddy the waters just to be able to sell them for $20–$30 less. Thus far, however, these rumours have also only been shared by a single publication with a somewhat spotty reputation, especially when it comes to actual product names, so these could also just as easily be “AirPods Lite” and sit below Apple’s standard second-generation AirPods.
Either way, it looks like it might shape up to be an interesting season for Apple headphones, and with features like Audio Sharing introduced in iOS 13, it will be nice to have more options available for sharing music with your friends.