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As expected, Apple’s major virtual October event held earlier this week was headlined by the unveiling of Apple’s iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro lineup, but it included surprisingly little else, with only one other product slipped into the mix in the form of the new HomePod mini.
While Apple obviously already got this year’s Apple Watch launch and its newest iPad models out of the way back in September, and there was never any reason to believe that Macs would be featured at the October event — as in the past Apple is undoubtedly saving those for a separate event likely to be held in November — there were at least two other products that many reasonably expected would launch alongside the new iPhones.
We are of course here talking about Apple’s much-rumoured AirTags and the AirPods Studio on-ear headphones, both of which we’ve been hearing about for well over a year now, with rumours heating up last spring that their launch was imminent.
We’ve known for a couple of years now that Apple has been working on a new set of Apple-branded wireless headphones — something separate and distinct from those sold as part of its Beats lineup, although these reports only started to come into focus earlier this year, when it became apparent that Apple had a product that would soon be ready for release.
At that point, however, the reports started gaining steam very quickly, with the name AirPods Studio leaking out along with some indications of what unique features would be setting them apart from other wireless over-ear headphones, including Apple’s own Beats Studio3.
In fact, there was enough white smoke around the new AirPods Studio that many expected that we’d hear about them at June’s Worldwide Developers conference, especially after reports suggested that they had already gone into production, but as June and then the summer came and went with no announcement, it began to sound like Apple was saving their release for the fall.
Clearing the Stage
Then last month Apple began clearing third-party headphones and speakers out of its retail stores, and removed the Beats headphones page from its website, both of which seemed like certain signs that Apple was clearing the way for its own premium on-ear headphones to make their debut, along with one or two new HomePods.
However, while we saw the HomePod mini make its appearance at Apple’s event this week, the AirPods Studio were missing entirely from the event, confirming an eleventh-hour report by leaker Jon Prosser.
Of course, Apple doesn’t talk about unreleased products at all, but since Prosser originally said that the AirPods Studio wouldn’t be announced this week at the event, it left the door open to speculation that maybe Apple just didn’t feel that they were worthy of stage time, and would instead choose to slip them out via press release sometime this month. After all, it did the exact same thing with its AirPods Pro last year, which were also a groundbreaking product in their own right and could certainly could have been announced at Apple’s September event — even if Apple wasn’t ready to ship them until later. After all, that’s exactly what Apple did with the original AirPods back in 2016.
A ‘Major Hiccup’
With so many moves being made in preparation for the new headphones, and reports that they were already in production, it seemed odd that they’d be delayed, but now Prosser has weighed in with additional information suggesting that Apple’s AirPods Studio may have hit a roadblock that could delay them until at least December.
This belies the earlier reports that they were already in production, unless of course Apple did start trial production and had to pull back due to manufacturing issues; this would line up with Prosser’s comment that there’s been a “major hiccup in AirPods Studio production” (emphasis ours).
However, according to Prosser, Apple has had to go so far as cutting “a few key features,” although he doesn’t provide any information on what those features might be. Since we don’t really know what the problem is, and it’s unclear whether Apple has even solved it yet, it’s difficult to put a timeline on when AirPods Studio might actually see the light of day. Prosser suggests that if no further issues arise they could still be announced next month and ship in December, but adds that it’s likely that this could be the product that gets delayed until March 2021 — the timeframe that Prosser had previously predicted for AirTags’ release.
In a report on the upcoming iPhone 12 launch event, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman shared last week that Apple is still preparing to announce “its first Apple-branded over-ear headphones” this year, although it’s likely that he may not have been privy to the details of this particular manufacturing problem at that point, since the report implied that they would in fact launch alongside “smaller version of the HomePod speaker,” which of course we now know as the HomePod mini that was unveiled earlier this week.
Apple could have still chosen to debut the AirPods Studio during its iPhone 12 launch event and simply announce later availability, and it certainly wouldn’t have been unprecedented as the same thing happened with the original AirPods back in 2016, which didn’t show up stores until December. However, Apple also almost certainly wants to avoid another AirPower debacle at all costs, so it’s going to remain tight-lipped until it’s absolutely sure that it had the finished version ready to go, and it seems like it’s still anybody’s guess as to when that’s going to be.