‘AirPods Pro Lite’ Is Likely a New Beats Product, Kuo Lays out Launch Timeline

Airpods Pro Vs Powerbeats Pro 2 Credit: Hadrian / Shutterstock
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There have been several reports lately that Apple is working on a new set of AirPods known colloquially as “AirPods Pro Lite,” which would presumably fit somewhere in between the full AirPods Pro and the second-generation AirPods in Apple’s product lineup.

However, now at least one reputable analyst is suggesting that these reports may have in fact mistaken the new “AirPods” product for something Apple is actually working on under its Beats brand, while also laying out what he believes are Apple’s plans for its whole headphone lineup over the next couple of years.

In a new investor note published today that focuses specifically on Apple’s AirPods business, veteran analyst Ming-Chi Kuo offered up several interesting predictions for Apple’s product roadmaps, many of which line up fairly well with everything else we’ve heard, but also throw a couple of interesting curveballs into the mix.

Third-Generation AirPods

Firstly, regarding the third-generation AirPods, Kuo’s note contradicts earlier reports that they might follow the AirPods Pro design, revealing that while he’s expecting Apple to switch to a production process that’s similar to the one used for the current AirPods Pro, the external design will remain roughly the same. He also predicts that they aren’t going to enter mass production until the first half of 2021, which quashes another rumour that they could be the new AirPods expected to be unveiled next month.

An early 2021 release for the third-gen AirPods isn’t really all that far-fetched when you consider that Apple went three years between releases the last time around, and despite that, the AirPods have never stopped flying off the shelves, so there’s not a huge incentive for Apple to update them year-over-year like it does with its other mainstream products.

Second-Gen AirPods Pro

Of course, Apple is working on a second-generation version of its AirPods Pro as well, and while we already heard that those could be delayed until 2021, Kuo’s timeline puts them even farther out, suggesting that they won’t enter mass production any earlier than late 2021, and quite possibly could slip into early 2022.

Kuo doesn’t provide any additional details on what features the new AirPods Pro might include, and with them over a year out at this point, it’s quite possible that Apple hasn’t even finalized its plans for the next model yet either.

AirPods or Beats?

Perhaps most interesting of all is Kuo’s prediction that the “new AirPods model” that will be coming later this year are more likely to be a Beats product than AirPods.

This could line up with the “AirPods X” that we’ve been hearing about, which leaker Jon Prosser suggested were going to be a take on the BeatsX design. Instead, it’s entirely possible they could simply be a new version of the actual BeatsX. Prosser had pegged these for a fall release, but we’ve heard little else about them.

Another possibility is that these could represent a second-generation version of Apple’s Powerbeats Pro, which seem to have recently begun showing up in regulatory databases. There’s some logic to this, since the Powerbeats Pro could be seen as a “lite” version of the AirPods Pro in some ways, since they lack features like active noise cancellation and a wireless charging case. Of course, it’s also not clear what might be added in a second-generation version.

The fact that Powerbeats Pro 2 are already appearing in regulatory databases, however, suggests that they could be the Apple earphones that some rumours have been predicting will arrive next month, a year after the original PowerBeats Pro debuted last spring.

‘AirPods Max’ Headphones

Kuo also weighed in on Apple’s over-ear headphones, adding that they’re expected to be available later this year with a unique new magnetic design. While we’ve heard that they could be unveiled at WWDC, Kuo isn’t expecting them to enter mass production until mid-2020, which points to a more likely fall release.

Of course, this wouldn’t prevent Apple from announcing them at WWDC, but the company rarely takes the wraps off products that early unless there are really compelling reasons to do so, like when it announced the Mac Pro last year, or the original iPhone back in 2007. However, it doesn’t seem like a set of new headphones would warrant an announcement like that, especially at a developer’s conference.

Our Take

Rumours of what Apple is doing with its headphones right now are all over the place, and since Apple hasn’t been manufacturing AirPods for long enough for us to see a trend, it’s fairly difficult to know what the company is up to exactly.

Realistically, though, it would be somewhat surprising to see any updates to the AirPods this year, especially with everything else that’s going on in the world right now with the global health pandemic. However, even if that weren’t the case, Apple doesn’t usually update or refresh products just for the sake of putting out a new model. While MacBooks get small refreshes almost annually these days, that’s because there’s always a reason to bump the processor, while the annually updated iPhone is a flagship product that offers a lot of room for new features and capabilities.

By contrast, there’s only so much that Apple can do with the AirPods year-over-year, and it’s not like the company has any problems selling them. In fact, it can’t make them fast enough to keep up with demand as it is. While new products like over-ear headphones are almost certainly coming, and we think Kuo is right that we’ll probably see more updates to the Beats lineup, which has a wider variety of products for Apple to build on, the AirPods don’t really need an update this year, and Apple almost certainly knows that too.

[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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