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It’s been over two years now since Apple released the last version of its standard AirPods, so it seems like the time is ripe for the “AirPods 3” to make their debut. However, while we’re pretty confident that they will arrive sometime this year, rumours about exactly when this year have been all over the place in recent weeks.
It’s not just the sketchy rumours either — those should always be taken with a grain of salt anyway. However, reliable sources have been coming up with very different information.
For instance, highly reliable Chinese leaker Kang suggested in March that the next-gen AirPods were “ready to ship” — a notion backed up by leaked images we saw earlier this year — while the venerable Apple analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a long history of accurate supply chain prognostications, insists that they haven’t even entered mass production yet.
To be clear, this isn’t just a matter of Apple choosing to delay the release of a product that’s otherwise ready like it allegedly did with the AirTag; in this case, Kuo and Kang can’t both be right, since if Apple’s suppliers haven’t even begun making the new AirPods, then even though they may be in their final form (hence the leaked photos), they’d be far from “ready to ship.”
Many were hoping the more optimistic time frame was true, fully expecting the “AirPods 3” to be unveiled at Apple’s April 23 event. When that came and went without any mention of new AirPods, however, it seemed like a safe assumption that Kuo was right, and we wouldn’t see them until the fall.
Now, however, a somewhat questionable rumour is once again raising our hopes that we could see them this spring after all — and as soon as next Tuesday, May 18.
This latest tidbit comes from YouTuber Luke Miani, who shared the news with AppleTrack, seemingly confirming other information that the site has “heard privately” that new AirPods will be released “in the coming weeks.”
The assumption here is that Apple would unveil the new third-generation AirPods more quietly via a press release, which would be no different from the reveal of every AirPods-branded product released in the past four years.
Only the original AirPods got any stage time back in 2016; the second-generation AirPods, AirPods Pro, and even the AirPods Max, were all announced via press release.
Apple Music HiFi
What’s perhaps more significant this time around, however, is that Miani is also suggesting that Apple may choose to make this announcement alongside a new “Apple Music HiFi” service.
It’s unclear if Miani has any exclusive information about this aspect of the rumour, or he’s just inferring it from previous reports. Late last month, Hits Daily Double shared a report from sources within the music industry that Apple was preparing to announce a new high-fidelity audio streaming tier “in the coming weeks,” while also adding that it would be expected to coincide with the launch of the new third-generation AirPods.
Evidence of this was also uncovered by MacRumors’s Steve Moser, who took a dive into the iOS 14.6 beta code and discovered that Apple was indeed laying the foundations for higher-quality streaming, with references to “lossless audio”, “high-quality stereo streaming”, and “HiFi” in the iOS 14.6 Apple Music app.
However, other references in the code suggested that it might not be compatible with all listening devices, in much the same way that Spatial Audio is currently limited to the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. The new service could conceivably require the third-generation AirPods to take advantage of it (and hopefully Spatial Audio too).
What’s particularly interesting is that the report notes that the new service would not be a “premium” tier the way that it is with Apple’s competitors. Hits Daily Double says that label sources have told them it will be offered “at the same $9.99-per-user price point as its standard plan.” This suggests the possibility that it may not really be another “tier” per se, but rather a higher-quality version that’s automatically available to those with compatible Apple hardware.
While Miani basically has no established track record, when you combine his prediction with all the other reports that going around, it at least seems plausible.
Miani is the first to put a fixed date on this, however multiple other sources have suggested both “AirPods 3” and “Apple Music HiFi” are expected to arrive “in the coming weeks” — which suggests a timeframe much sooner than this fall. Further, May 18th is close enough to suggest the possibility that Miani may have heard some legitimate information pointing to that date, as Apple would certainly be gearing up for the release at this point.
On the other hand, unlike the iPhone, it’s hard to nail down a release cycle for Apple’s AirPods. The original AirPods were announced in September 2016, although they don’t go on sale until mid-December, and most people couldn’t get their hands on a pair until early 2017. After months of rumours and speculation throughout most of 2018, the second-generation AirPods arrived in March 2019. We can’t necessarily infer a trend from only two product releases, but if they do hint at Apple’s release schedule, then “AirPods 3” are due any day now.
While “Apple Music HiFi” has come more out of the blue, it’s also not all that surprising when you consider that rival Spotify announced a similar initiative earlier this year, and others like Tidal and Amazon already offer their own higher-quality services.
Apple has gone to great lengths to try to position Apple Music as a more premium service for the discerning listener, so it was inevitable that it would eventually move into “HiFi” streaming. What’s perhaps more unexpected is the idea that Apple won’t charge a premium price for it, however when you think about how Apple operates, this isn’t all that odd, nor is it unprecedented.
For example, although Apple did originally charge users a per-track upgrade fee when it unveiled 256kbps AAC “iTunes Plus” back in 2007, those upgrades became free once it debuted its $25/year iTunes Match subscription service in 2011. It’s also worth noting that there was more to “iTunes Plus” than just higher quality; these were also the first DRM-free (non-copy-protected) tracks to be available on the iTunes Store, so we suspect the music labels had something to do with enforcing the requirement for upgrade pricing.
However, when Apple released 4K content on the iTunes Store, it fought hard against the movie industry — and won — to offer 4K movies at the same price as the previous 1080p HD versions. In fact, Apple allowed anybody who had previously purchased a movie in HD to download the 4K version at no extra cost.
So, it would actually be a pretty typical move for Apple to offer a “HiFi” version of Apple Music to its subscribers at no extra charge, and we can already see the way that Apple is going to spin this in the press release, basically pointing out that while others charge more for a better listening experience, ever Apple Music subscriber will get the best experience possible — although perhaps only with the right set of AirPods.
[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.]