After almost three years of silence on the wireless headphone front, Apple’s been on fire already this year, with the release of its highly-anticipated second-generation AirPods back in March, and the additional treat of similarly-equipped wireless PowerBeats Pro that are expected to land in stores next month. However, it seems like the company isn’t done with AirPods for this year.
In fact, many of the rumours that we saw over the past few months suggested that Apple had something more up its sleeve for its flagship wireless earbuds. The second-generation AirPods were an iterative update at best, adding performance improvements, Hey Siri support, and a wireless charging case, but failing to deliver many of the other features that we expected to see in the rumoured “AirPods 2.”
This led us to believe the a more significant update was still on the horizon, and now a pair of new reports from DigiTimes and analyst-in-the-know Ming-Chi Kuo confirms these suspicions.
AirPods 3 Rumors
According to DigiTimes, Apple plans to release “AirPods 3” by the end of 2019, incorporating active noise cancellation (ANC).
While active noise cancellation is a common feature in many on-ear headphones, adding it to small earbuds will make for an innovative technical challenge for Apple, since the feature traditionally consumes more power, and requires additional properly placed microphones to pick up ambient noise in order to cancel it out.
Further, Apple would presumably need to rethink the design of the new AirPods, since the current lack of the sort of foam or rubber ear-tips that are usually associated with passive noise isolation would otherwise make ANC a somewhat useless feature — there’s no point in trying to cancel outside noise if the headphones themselves can’t prevent it from getting past them in the first place.
Although the DigiTimes report mentions that Apple is “looking to raise the bar by adding new features,” suggesting the new earbuds will incorporate more than just ANC, it doesn’t elaborate on what any of the other new features will be.
On the other hand, Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a pretty impressive track record at reading Apple’s tea leaves, has put out a research note (via 9to5Mac) indicating that Apple is planning not one, but two new AirPods models toward the end of this year — specifically going into production between 2019 and 2020.
AirPods Pro Rumors
Kuo predicts that one model will feature an “all-new form factor design” and sell for a higher price — think “AirPods Pro” — while the other model will be a more iterative update to the current second-generation AirPods that will sell for the same price.
If true, we expect that it’s the “AirPods Pro” model that is most likely to include the more groundbreaking features such as noise cancellation, while the third-generation AirPods may simply gain the more minor features that have been rumoured to be coming, such as waterproofing, new color options and an improved, grippier coating.
This would also seem to line up with earlier rumours that seemed to conflict based on when new color options for AirPods would be coming — if Apple does in fact have two almost identically-designed models of AirPods in the works, it’s easy to see how sources could be confusing the two.
Kuo’s research note doesn’t elaborate on any specific customer-facing features that we might see coming in either model, but Apple has also reportedly been working on health-monitoring functions that have been predicting to arrive this year — another feature that we strongly suspect would be aimed toward the higher-end “AirPods Pro.”
It’s not entirely clear what type of health monitoring AirPods could offer, but it seems like heart-rate is an obvious one, and with Apple’s strong push into health care features, the company is likely looking at other ways to see what AirPods can do; a series of trademark filings from late last year reclassified the AirPods to include categories for “health, fitness, exercise, and wellness sensors” and at least one analyst has suggested that AirPods could be key to Apple’s future health strategy.
One thing that’s clear from both reports, however, is that AirPods already have incredible momentum; the original AirPods continued to be top sellers even after two years on the market, with Apple selling 35 million in 2018 and reaching a 75 percent global market share.
With Apple’s release of its second-generation version, Kuo expects shipments to top 52 million this year, and exceed 75 million in 2020, and there’s no sign that Apple is slowing down with what is quickly becoming its most successful wearable device.