A new claim surfaced yesterday suggesting that Apple could be releasing its full over-hear headphones as soon as June’s Worldwide Developers Conference, however the leaker also noted that all of this is part of Apple’s ultimate endgame to make the Beats brand go away entirely.
To be fair, such a theory has a ring of truth to it. Even though Apple spent $3 billion to acquire Beats a few years ago, it was fairly clear that this was primarily to gain the company’s connections and expertise to fuel the launch of Apple Music. The hardware brand, while valuable in its own right, has mostly just hung around since then. Apple has kept its independent brand identity to the point where it’s not even obvious to industry outsiders that it’s actually owned by Apple. However, with only one or two exceptions, Beats products have been relatively slow to adapt Apple’s newest technologies like its H1 chip.
So it’s easy to see how Apple might be considering putting the somewhat neglected division on the chopping block, however despite the rumours and slower pace of innovation, the popular brand has also been a cash cow for Apple, and the products remain in high demand today. Arguably, Apple’s slow pace of updates to Beats products may simply be as a result of them not being strictly necessary. High-end products like Beats Studio3 headphones still fly off the shelves even without the latest H1 chips and features like “Hey Siri” support.
‘Not on the Table’
Now 9to5Mac has confirmed with its own sources that “this is not a strategy that Apple plans to pursue” and isn’t even on the table right now.
In fact, Apple enjoys the benefits of Beats being an entirely separate brand identity, since it attracts a much wider customer base. Android users are unlikely to ever buy AirPods, or even Apple-branded over-ear headphones, but a vast number of them are still buying Beats products, and Apple isn’t about to mess up a good thing. The reality is that we’re well past the insular days when Apple kept to itself, and as its expanded into services, the company has shown a remarkable willingness to embrace competing platforms as long as it can make money from them in other ways.
That said, there are clearly areas in which Apple doesn’t want to risk competing between its own divisions. While Apple made a big investment in Powerbeats Pro last year, adding the company’s H1 chip, these were still nothing like Apple’s AirPods, allowing them to hit a totally different market segment. However, Apple also held back on bringing all of the AirPods features to the Powerbeats Pro, which conspicuously lacked the wireless charging that had come to the second-generation AirPods only a few weeks prior, and made no attempts at adding any kind of noise cancellation, which still remain the exclusive domain of the AirPods Pro.
Similarly, the next Beats product to gain the coveted H1 chip were the Beats Solo Pro last fall, the brand’s on-ear headphones which actually gained ANC for the first time as well. Meanwhile, a similar “Studio Pro” update for the over-ear version has remained conspicuously absent, which leads us to believe that Apple is waiting to release its own over-ear headphones to make sure that it’s Apple-branded version gets these capabilities first.
Beats is Alive and Well
However, the most recent indication that Apple is not only continuing to keep the Beats brand alive and well, but also slowly adapting it to its own style was last month’s release of the new Powerbeats, a successor to the Powerbeats3 that many expected to get a “4” designation. Instead, Apple has chosen to simplify the naming, with Powerbeats and Powerbeats Pro now being the only entries in the lineup, both of which now include the H1 chip.
One “X factor” that remains in this whole situation right now is the mysterious AirPods Pro Lite that we’ve been seeing rumours of, which yesterday’s report also mentioned as a new “AirPods X” claiming that the product would be an Apple-branded response to the low-cost BeatsX wireless earphones. However, we still know far too little about this product to be sure of exactly what Apple plans to do with it, or even where it’s going to fit in. The prevailing theory right now seems to be that they’ll sell for around $200 and land somewhere between the AirPods and AirPods Pro, perhaps offering passive noise isolation and a better in-ear fit without the ANC features of the Pro version. That said, we remain convinced that they’ll still very clearly be “AirPods” in every way, rather than shifting over to a more athletic style, since Apple clearly seems happy to leave that with the Beats brand, where it’s obviously been working well.