Apple has been on a roll this week, quietly pushing out updated hardware ahead of its big media event on Monday. Unlike prior years, Apple appears to have made the decision this time around to stage the releases in a “twelve-days-of-Christmas” manner, pushing out a new surprise each day, rather than announcing everything at once like the company has done in the past.
For today surprise, Apple has just announced its next-generation AirPods, an upgrade of the original 2016 version that retains the same physical design as its predecessor while adding battery life improvements, hands-free “Hey Siri” and an optional wireless charging case.
Apple notes that its new AirPods now feature an Apple-designed “H1” chip, an interesting naming departure from the “W1” chip found in the original AirPods. While the “W” in the W1 was intended to highlight the groundbreaking wireless features in the AirPods, which offered much more seamless pairing and more reliable signal than prior Bluetooth earphones, Apple’s move to using the letter “H” seems to be establishing that the chip is designed specifically for headphones, although of course the “H” also helps to highlight the new “Hey Siri” support.
With the new H1 chip, Apple is promising even faster connection times and an extra hour of listening time — up to five hours on a full charge, or three hours after a 15-minute recharge in the case. The new H1 chip is presumably more power-efficient, which is the only realistic way to increase battery life in a device as small as the AirPods.
The H1 chip also boasts improved sound, with what Apple is calling as “custom audio architecture,” and of course the new “Hey Siri” support is supposed to allow users to change songs, make a call, adjust volume, get directions, or make other Siri requests simply by using their voice. Based on code already found in iOS 12.2, users will need to train “Hey Siri” to their voice in much the same way as they do on their iPhone, in order to avoid false triggers by ambient sound.
Apple has also been working to perfect its voice recognition in this area, which may be one of the reasons why the “Hey Siri” feature took so long to arrive on the AirPods. The iPhone and the Apple Watch are less prone to false positive triggers out in the world as they do not listen for “Hey Siri” commands when the iPhone is being carried in a pocket or a purse, or when the Apple Watch screen is off.
Interestingly, while a wireless AirPods charging case has been expected for well over a year now, Apple is making it an option with the new second-generation AirPods. While the new AirPods can still be purchased for $159, users who want the Wireless Charging Case will need to pay $199 — a $40 premium — in order to get it. Both charging cases sport the same internal battery, providing up to 24 hours of total listening time, with the Wireless Charging Case supporting any Qi-compatible charger.
Apple will also be selling the Wireless Charging Case for $79, which can be used with either the original first-generation AirPods or the new second-gen version if users decide to buy it later. Apple is also offering free custom engraving on AirPods for those who order them from the online Apple Store.
With Apple releasing new hardware each day this week, we’re now left wondering what new surprises tomorrow will hold — Apple’s AirPower charging mat is still to come, and some recent reports also suggested an updated iPod touch will also be coming this week. Apple’s It’s Show Time event on Monday is expected to be focused almost entirely on the company’s upcoming video and news magazine services.