Apple’s Third-Gen AirPods May Follow AirPods Pro Design without Active Noise Cancellation

AirPods Pro on frame with red background Credit: Fadhli Adnan / Shutterstock
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Much like the timeline for Apple’s 5G iPhone, rumours about what Apple is doing with its next-generation AirPods are all over the place right now, with early reports that the company was working on a set of ‘AirPods Pro Lite’ to more recent suggestions that Apple could have a Beats-like “AirPods X” in the works, as well as a third-generation release of its original AirPods design.

When any of these might be coming is also anybody’s guess, with reports ranging from next month until early 2021, but of course with the possibility of at least three different products in the works, those timelines could actually all be true.

It’s actually been hard to pin down a cycle for Apple’s AirPods, since unlike more established products like the iPhone, the AirPods lineup is still in its relative infancy. The original AirPods debuted back in late 2016, and then went over two years without an update before Apple released the second-generation AirPods in March 2019. This was followed by the AirPods Pro in late October, but there’s still not enough for us to really see a pattern here. Does Apple plan to release new AirPods every year, or are we going to see a similar 2-3 year cycle between new products? Only Apple knows for sure.

However, at least partially corroborating yesterday’s report that Apple could be planning a May release for at least one new AirPods model, DigiTimes (via MacRumors) has revealed that these will likely be a new model that features the same design as Apple’s AirPods Pro without advanced features like active noise cancellation (ANC), and will sell for a lower price.

While the report refers to these as “AirPods Pro” — and they likely represent the “AirPods Pro Lite” that we previously heard about from DigiTimes — it’s equally possible that these could simply be the third-generation of the standard AirPods, replacing last year’s original design. If they’re going to lack ANC and come in at a lower price point, they’re very unlikely to be a direct successor to the current AirPods Pro.

Such a move would help to simplify and unify the AirPods lineup, since both the AirPods and AirPods Pro would feature identical designs, with only the internal features differing. While ANC would certainly not be included on the lower-end model, it’s less clear what else Apple might choose to cut out. For example, the current second-generation AirPods sell in two versions: $159 without the wireless charging case and $199 with it.

There’s been other speculation that Apple could be planning to add a mid-range tier to the AirPods lineup, with the “AirPods Pro Lite” hitting a $199 price point that would sit in between the $159 AirPods (without the wireless charging case), and the $249 AirPods Pro. While it seems like this could complicate the lineup a bit, there’s probably more than enough room for a third entry when you consider the overwhelming popularity of Apple’s AirPods lineup.

What’s also interesting about the DigiTimes report, however, is that it actually suggests that although Apple had planned to unveil the “new AirPods Pro” in May 2020, which lines up exactly with another rumour we heard this week, the publication also adds that Apple might end up having to defer the launch until this fall. Adding to the confusion, DigiTimes also reported yesterday that the second-generation of the actual AirPods Pro could be delayed until early 2021, and that’s not even counting the mysterious “AirPods X” that we’ve been hearing about recently and Apple’s upcoming over-ear headphones, so exactly what Apple has up its sleeve here still remains to be seen, but it definitely looks like it’s going to be an interesting year for headphones.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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