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Ever since we first heard that Apple was working on its own set of over-ear headphones, one of the things we’ve been asking ourselves is exactly how these will be different from what the company offers in its popular Beats lineup.
After all, when Apple acquired Beats for a cool $3 billion back in 2014, in addition to gaining the talent and industry contacts necessary to launch Apple Music, it also inherited a headphone brand with a serious cult following. While Apple hasn’t been as aggressive in keeping the Beats lineup up to date as it has with its Apple-branded products, it hasn’t neglected them either, and the Beats Studio 3 over-ear headphones are still a respectable set of cans in the mid-to-high-end of the consumer price range.
In fact, the idea that Apple was working on its own set of over-ear headphones led to some recent speculation that this could be a strategy for the company to divest itself of the Beats division entirely. However, this was later refuted with sources inside Apple confirming that Beats isn’t going anywhere — the brand is simply far too popular, especially among non-iPhone users, for Apple to risk messing up a good thing.
So that brings us back to our original question: What will Apple’s own over-ear headphones offer that makes them substantially different from the Beats Studio 3, other than Apple branding and design, of course.
We’ve previously speculated that Apple could bring some AirPods-like features that aren’t otherwise available on Beats headphones to the new Apple-branded set. Even though Apple has already brought its new H1 chip to at least some Beats headphones — the Powerbeats Pro, Solo Pro, and Powerbeats, in that order — there are still features that are exclusive to Apple’s own AirPods.
For example, none of Beats headphones feature wireless charging, which was actually a surprising omission on the Powerbeats Pro when they debuted last year on the heels of Apple’s second-generation AirPods. With rumours that Apple is working on an “AirPower Redux”, it seems like wireless charging will be an obvious fit.
Users of Beats headphones also don’t currently enjoy the automatic pause feature that’s been unique to the AirPods since they first debuted back in 2016, which pauses audio when one AirPod is removed and automatically resumes playback when it’s reinserted. It’s a small but cool feature that Apple could also choose to introduce exclusively to the new over-ear model. By contrast, Beats headphones simply power off when folded.
It’s also perhaps telling that while the Beats Solo Pro on-ear headphones got the H1 chip last fall, Apple hasn’t yet granted this honor to its Beats Studio lineup, suggesting that it could be waiting to deliver it to its Apple-branded over-ears first.
While Apple’s headphones will naturally feature a more distinctive, Apple-like design to go with the branding, Bloomberg reports that Apple might take that even further by building the new headphones with a modular design that features parts that can be swapped in and out, much like the bands on the Apple Watch.
According to Bloomberg, Apple is actually working on at least two variations of the new headphones, with one fitness-focused model that uses “lighter, breathable materials with small perforations,” and a premium version with leather-like fabrics and accents. However, it looks like these would simply be a matter of packaging, with the ear pads and headband padding attaching to the frame of the actual headphones magnetically so that they’re user-replaceable.
Based on this, it sounds like Apple would create one physical set of headphones, and then package them in different kits, in almost exactly the same way that the Apple Watch is currently sold. Users would then presumably be able to purchase different ear and headband pads separately to customize the headphones based on their needs and fashion preferences.
According to the report, early prototypes of the new headphones have a “retro look” and swivelling oval ear cups and a headband connected by thin, metal arms that stem from the top of the ear cups, although it’s unclear if this represents what the final design will look like. Not surprisingly, sources also indicate that Apple will use the same wireless pairing and noise cancellation technology found in the AirPods Pro, since it will almost certainly include Apple’s H1 chip, or possibly even a newer derivative of it.
Bloomberg’s report wasn’t particularly specific on when we might see these new Apple headphones, other than that the company plans to unveil it “later this year,” but that the release may be delayed by the ongoing global pandemic. A recent report from leaker Jon Prosser pegged a June unveiling, suggesting that they could come during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, and while Prosser was also the one who suggested that Apple was planning to shutter Beats, it’s worth noting that he nailed the iPhone SE release date late last month.
[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.]