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New code found in iOS 14 by 9to5Mac provides some insight into what the new Apple-branded headphones may look like, seemingly confirming an over-ear design, rather than on-ear, and the likelihood that they’ll be available in at least black and white versions. However, the very fact that this has been found in iOS 14 and not iOS 13.4 suggests that we may have to wait until the fall to actually see their debut.
A report from late last month showed placeholders appearing in Target’s inventory for what seemed like a new pair of headphones, and although the product name simply said “Apple AirPods (X Generation)” several Target employees revealed that it was typical for Target to use a temporary name for unreleased products, especially from secretive companies like Apple. On the other hand, the $399 price tag suggested that these were very unlikely to actually be AirPods, since Apple only released its $249 AirPods Pro last fall, and the only new AirPods that seem to be in the pipeline according to recent rumours are ”AirPods Pro Lite” which the name suggests would almost certainly be a lower-end model.
Since it would be unusual for Target to have a placeholder item like this six months in advance of its release, this left us hoping that Apple would debut the new over-ear headphones at the press event that it could be holding at the end of March, although it’s equally possible that Target is merely speculating at this point.
What iOS 14 Tells Us
So far, all that 9to5Mac has actually seen from the iOS 14 leak is a pair of icons that are used to represent the headphones throughout the operating system, including places like Apple’s battery and charging status widget.
However, these glyphs are sufficient to show us that they’ll have an over-ear design, and the fact that there are two versions — one white and one black — suggests that Apple won’t be insisting on only releasing them in white. This makes sense for a set of over-ear headphones, which won’t be tied to the same type of iconic branding as Apple’s AirPods, which maintain their distinctive look to follow in the footsteps of the early iPod “white earbud” marketing campaigns. It’s also much easier for Apple to place its own clear branding on a set of over-ear headphones — like stamping a big Apple logo on each ear cup — than it is to distinguish its AirPods in any way other than the colour.
Whether Apple will go with more colours than just black and white is anybody’s guess at this point. iOS-level icons may not be sufficient to illustrate this, so we can’t rule it out, but it does seem that if Apple is going to position these as premium headphones that sit “above” the Beats brand, it will probably stick to more classic colours, as it long has with its higher-end iPhone models.
Apple vs. Beats
We’ve often wondered exactly what Apple’s own headphones could bring to the table that its Beats brand doesn’t already offer. The company hasn’t been shy about bringing AirPods features to Beats, adding the AirPods’ H1 chip to the on-ear Beats Solo Pro last fall, which were actually first to introduce the noise cancellation and audio transparency features that would later come to the AirPods Pro. However, it’s noteworthy that Beats’ Studio Wireless lineup hasn’t gotten the same treatment, suggesting that Apple could be saving the over-ear H1 implementation for the Apple-branded headphones.
One interesting point that 9to5Mac also makes is that there are some smaller AirPods-specific features that haven’t made it over to the Beats lineup, such as the ability to automatically pause audio playback when you take them off and resume playback when you put them back on. Beats Solo Pro simply power off when folded instead. Apple could also conceivably come up with a wireless charging solution for its own branded headphones, which could dovetail with rumours that it’s planning to release a wireless charger, but there’s been no specific evidence of this. Beats headphones charge using a Lightning port wired connection.
Apple was originally expected to release its new headphones last year, but may not have fully sorted out some of its early problems. 9to5Mac also adds that the iOS 14 code they saw was from December 2019, which adds further weight to the fact that a spring release hasn’t been in Apple’s plans, since we’d expect to see the same icons already showing up in the iOS 13.4 betas by now if Apple were preparing for a spring release, as we’ve already seen with the upcoming Powerbeats4.
[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.]