Reliable Sources Disagree on When We’ll See Apple’s New ‘AirPods 3’

lots of AirPods 3 leaked photo Credit: 52audio
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By now it’s become pretty apparent that Apple has plans to update both its AirPods and AirPods Pro earbuds sometime this year, but while many reports have been pointing to a spring release for the next-generation “AirPods 3,” we’ve just been thrown a curveball with some conflicting reports as to exactly when we might see them.

First on deck is the Chinese leaker known only as “Kang,” who has proven to be extremely accurate with Apple rumours in the past. In a recent post on the Weibo Chinese social media service shared by MacRumors, Kang claims that the next-generation AirPods are “ready to ship,” and are destined to replace the current second-generation AirPods, which will be discontinued sometime this month.

This suggests that the “AirPods 3” would likely drop at Apple’s rumoured March 23 event next week, and it lines up with leaked images of the new AirPods that imply that they’re basically a done deal at this point.

That said, we’re still waiting to hear confirmation on whether reports of a March 23 event are true at all, but if Apple stays true to form, we’ll likely get word of that by tomorrow.

However, it’s by no means a necessity that Apple hold an event to unveil new AirPods, considering that none of Apple’s earphones have gotten any stage time since the release of the very first AirPods back in 2016.

To add even more fuel to the fire, the source of the last round of leaked AirPods photos, 52audio has shared even more pics alleging to show the final “AirPods 3.”

Dissenting Opinions

While Kang has a near-perfect track record when it comes to Apple leaks, and there are certainly other signs that the product could be ready to go, we were thrown a pretty big curveball this morning when another very reputable analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, tossed a big bucket of cold water on the idea that we’d be seeing any new AirPods soon.

In a new investor note shared by MacRumors, Kuo states that mass production of the new AirPods hasn’t even begun yet, nor is it expected to kick in until the third quarter of this year.

This latest prediction is actually a departure from Kuo’s comments last fall, when he pegged the first half of 2021 as the release date for the “AirPods 3”, but it comes down to the fact that despite other reports, the new AirPods are simply not ready for prime time just yet.

Kuo’s comments come as part of a larger analysis of overall AirPods shipments, noting that the lack of a new version will result in a decline of about 25 percent over the first three quarters of 2021, compared to the same period of time last year. This works out to around 55 million units expected to be sold in the first part of this year.

Apple was early to the party with AirPods, and has enjoyed an open playing field for the past four years, but according to Kuo that free ride may be coming to an end. As more affordable and reliable true wireless earbuds become available, AirPods are experiencing a natural decline in sales.

Even though AirPods still have some significant advantages for iPhone users, Kuo notes that these are being “gradually offset” by improved user experiences coming from competitors at lower prices.

In fact, even after the “AirPods 3” finally arrive later this year, Kuo predicts that it would take better than expected demand just to keep sales from declining in the fourth quarter. This best-case scenario would still result in overall AirPods shipments for 2021 dropping to only 78 million units for the whole year, versus the 90 million pairs of AirPods that were sold in 2020.

Kuo also adds that AirPods Max aren’t doing much to boost sales of the product line either, with Apple only expected to ship about one million units of those this year, making up a small fraction of the overall AirPods lineup.

Unlike Kang, Kuo is also more circumspect about whether Apple is going to discontinue the second-generation AirPods when their replacements arrive. Kuo notes that Apple will have to make a difficult choice between the risk of affecting “AirPods 3” demand by keeping the older lower-priced version around versus losing sales by not having anything at a lower price point.

With the second-generation AirPods being physically identical to the originals, it made sense for Apple to offer them up as a direct replacement and discontinue the previous models. However, since the “AirPods 3” are expected to feature a different in-ear design, it’s not inconceivable that Apple could continue to sell both versions.

When Will We See the New AirPods?

It’s tempting to believe that we could see new AirPods next week, and the timing also seems right, considering that it would be almost two years to the day that Apple released its last major AirPods update.

However, despite Kang’s solid track record, it’s also very difficult to discount what Kuo says. Even though supply chain analysts often know the “what” of new products much more accurately than the “when,” it’s hard to believe that Kuo’s extensive supply chain sources wouldn’t know if new AirPods were already in mass production — which they’d have to be if the company plans to release them this month.

It’s also possible that Kang and 52audio are partially correct in their assessments. Apple may very well have a finished prototype of the new AirPods that’s ready to go, but for whatever reason is either unwilling or unable to actually ramp up production until later this year.

[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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