Although we aren’t expecting Apple to release any new AirPods this year—at least not the in-ear variety—that doesn’t mean the company isn’t already actively working on the next-generation version of its popular earbuds, and now we’re starting to see the indications of what they may look like.
A new image posted on 52audio and shared by leaker DuanRui is claiming to be Apple’s new “smaller” AirPods, being referred to colloquially as the “AirPods 3” which will likely represent the third-generation AirPods that are widely expected to be released sometime early next year.
These new images corroborate several other reports we’ve been hearing for a while now that the next version of Apple’s standard AirPods will adopt a design very similar to those of the current AirPods Pro, with smaller stems, an in-ear design, and replaceable ear tips. It’s likely that the rumours that appeared earlier this year of an AirPods Pro Lite were actually a result of misinterpreting this design change as being indicative of an entirely new mid-tier version of Apple’s AirPods.
The images are said to depict an “earphone shell” and “charging cockpit shell” and also include an x-ray of the alleged new AirPods next to the current AirPods Pro, showing the latter to still have a somewhat smaller case and earbud design, likely due to the need for less internal hardware. However, if the images are to scale, this also suggests that the third-gen AirPods charging case may actually be smaller than that of the current AirPods.
What’s notable, however, is that these images and renders make no allowance for replaceable ear tips, suggesting that while the next-generation AirPods may get closer to the AirPods Pro design, they won’t be adopting that particular feature. This could of course still change by the time the final product is ready, but it’s also possible that Apple doesn’t see the need for passive noise isolation on a set of AirPods that won’t include ANC; in fact, Apple might even consider passive noise isolation to be an undesirable feature without the “Transparency” mode found on the AirPods Pro to allow outside sounds to filter in when needed.
The third-generation AirPods are also expected to have a very similar internal structure to the current second-generation AirPods, suggesting that this could be primarily a design change with relatively few new features coming, although the report notes that they’re said to feature the same pressure-sensitive touch controls found on the AirPods Pro.
It was always hard to see where the so-called AirPods Pro Lite would have fit into Apple’s lineup of earbuds, since they were expected to basically just be a version of the AirPods Pro without advanced features such as active noise cancellation (ANC) and adaptive EQ, which would essentially just make them a redesigned version of the standard AirPods anyway. Hence the recent reports that the third-generation AirPods will simply adopt the AirPods Pro design make a lot more sense.
Meanwhile, Apple is said to be working on an entirely new design for the next-gen AirPods Pro, with an aim to removing the stems entirely and adopting a design more reflective of Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, so Apple’s premium “Pro” version will still end up with a very distinct look from its more affordable counterpart.
While it’s unclear how legitimate these images are, they do mostly line up with almost all of the other reports we’ve been hearing, and while 52audio doesn’t really have a track record, the fact that they were shared by DuanRui adds some credibility, since this source has leaked several other pieces of information recently which turned out to be accurate, including leaked photos of the iPad Air manual and photos confirming the iPhone 12 model names. Further, the timing seems about right for these leaks to begin appearing, with every reliable report suggesting that Apple will release the next version of its AirPods early next year,