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Although Apple added a splash of colour to its AirPods Max last year, when it comes to its in-ear AirPods lineup, the company has shown its usual intransigence in sticking to the classic white design.
Now, however, leaked photos of an early AirPods prototype show what could have been another twist on Apple’s original true wireless earbuds, showing a design that used a transparent plastic casing.
The prototype AirPods were unearthed by Giulio Zompetti, whose hobby is collecting rare Apple devices. He shared photos of the AirPods on Twitter but didn’t say much about them.
Zompetti doesn’t share exactly where he obtained these prototypes, but he does have a pretty good track record for getting his hands on other interesting Apple test products. For example, earlier this year, he showed off an Apple Watch prototype with a possible “Smart Band” connector and even a partially working AirPower prototype that he obtained from Chinese e-waste sources.
The photos of the AirPods shared by the avid collector are the design used by both the first- and second-generation AirPods, so it’s unclear which version these are or when they were created.
The idea of transparent casings isn’t unheard of within Apple since it allows engineers and designers to have a fully working prototype where they can still peer inside to see what’s going on. This would be especially relevant for the AirPods, which are a huge pain to take apart, likely even for Apple engineers.
Zompetti also shared a prototype of Apple’s first USB-C charger with a transparent casing, the 29W power adapter that was sold with the 12-inch MacBook.
This particular adapter used an older USB-C Power Distribution (USB-PD) standard, so it didn’t last for very long. It was discontinued in 2018 and quietly replaced with a newer 30W version that supported the USB-PD 3.0 spec — most importantly offering the 9V fast charging required by Apple’s newer devices like the MagSafe Duo, HomePod mini, and even the iPad Pro’s Magic Keyboard.
These aren’t the only prototypes in Apple history that have been found with transparent casings, but they’re certainly the most recent. Others that have surfaced over the years include a prototype Macintosh Classic and a clear Macintosh Portable. In the 90s, Apple also apparently sold “special edition” transparent Newtons to its employees.
There are also sophisticated mods to make your iPhone transparent, but these aren’t usually for the faint of heart.
What’s also interesting is that these prototypes bear a passing similarity to Nothing’s Ear (1) true wireless earbuds, which are positioned as a lower-cost alternative to the AirPods Pro. However, products with transparent or translucent materials are hardly an original idea, so it’s unlikely that Nothing’s buds were inspired by the AirPods in this regard.
While there’s a good chance that these AirPods prototypes were never intended for sale, it’s still an intriguing enough idea to get us thinking. Despite several concept renders and rumours of black AirPods and even iPhone colour-matched versions, there’s never been any real information to suggest that Apple would depart from white. With the exception of the AirPods Max, which could be getting some new colours next year, Apple clearly prefers to save the more playful looks for its Beats product lineup.