After seemingly endless months of rumor and speculation, in September we can finally see what Apple has in store for its AirPods line of true wireless earbuds.
Multiple reports from DigiTimes, Forbes, and Bloomberg agree that the long-awaited update of Apple’s hugely popular iconic white buds will debut alongside the iPhone 13 at the same annual fall event.
While in previous reports the AirPods 3 (not necessarily the name Apple will be using) was slated for a release in early 2021, DigiTimes (via 9to5Mac) claims shipments of a flexible circuit board needed to build the new version have begun have what gives credibility a launch in September that will retail shortly afterwards.
This is what we can expect from the next version of Apple’s AirPods.
– LeaksApplePro (@LeaksApplePro) March 10, 2021
According to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the next AirPods will look very similar to the AirPods Pro, and a photo posted by LeaksApplePro on Twitter seems to confirm this. The photo shows a row of iconic white earbuds that are very similar in shape to the AirPods Pro, but apparently lacking the Pro’s white silicone earbuds. The charging case also appears a bit taller than the one that comes with the AirPods Pro.
The earbuds pictured, if in fact the real McCoy, confirm what the Korean blog The Elec claimed in 2020 – that the new earbuds were designed for “Those who like the shape and fit of AirPods Pro but not noise canceling use potential customers. “The lack of silicone earbuds is a strong reason to believe that the new AirPods will not have an ANC.
The angled stems also seem to take over the pressure-sensitive controls on the AirPods Pro, which would replace the motion-sensitive taps on the current AirPods.
The name: AirPods 3, AirPods Pro Lite or AirPods +
Guessing Apple’s name for its new products can be almost as fun as guessing what they’ll do and how much they’ll cost. At this point in the company’s history, some name trends are evident. Apple likes to name its iPhones and iPads using numbers, words, and letters, such as iPhone 11, iPad Pro, and iPhone SE. The same cannot be said of its other products like Apple TV, iMac, MacBook, etc., all of which dispense with numbers to indicate how new they are.
Given this pattern, we think it’s unlikely that the AirPods 3 will actually be called the AirPods 3. Many have speculated that due to their resemblance to the AirPods Pro, they could be called AirPods Pro Lite from a design point of view. But “Pro Lite” feels uncomfortable. How can something be both “Pro” and “Lite”? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
We think it is much more likely that Apple will either only view its next AirPods as a generation update – ie “AirPods 3rd Generation” – or use the “Plus” of Apple TV +, ie AirPods +.
If these new earbuds are between the existing AirPods and the AirPods Pro in terms of features and / or price, and especially if Apple decides to keep all three in the range, it would make a lot of sense to call them AirPods +.
Still, Kuo, who has an admirable track record in Apple predictions, continues to refer to them in the AirPods 3.
At first it was thought that the AirPods 3 used the silicone tips of the AirPods Pro and thus automatically offered better sound quality than the existing AirPods. A fully sealed ear canal would have meant that the sound they generate would not have escaped and competing outside noise would not be able to penetrate. But an open design without a direct seal to the ear canal has limitations in sound quality.
The Earin A-3, which launched earlier this year, proves that these open designs can sound better than the current AirPods, but they’re unlikely to sound as good as the AirPods Pro.
Some noise cancellation
While ANC is usually associated with sealed ear canal designs, this is slowly changing. Samsung introduced the feature on its Galaxy Buds Live that doesn’t get into the ear canal. Granted, Samsung’s efforts in this area haven’t proven particularly successful, but that doesn’t mean Apple will face similar problems.
It’s worth noting that the AirPods Pro are still some of the best ANC earbuds we’ve ever tested – Apple clearly knows how to do ANC well.
Still, the report by The Elec, which quotes a Korean supplier who claims to be part of the chipset hardware for the next AirPods, says these new earbuds don’t have any kind of noise cancellation.
An Apple patent for bone conduction audio was discovered by AppleInsider, leading to speculation that Apple might use this technology in a future AirPods design.
Bone conduction audio bypasses the outer ear and ear canal and carries sound to our inner ear by vibrating bone material in our skull. It has proven itself in situations where people want to maintain a high level of awareness of the outside world (e.g. when working near hazards such as vehicle traffic) or simply don’t want to have objects in their ears.
We think the AirPods 3 are very unlikely to use bone conduction, but chances are we’re seeing this audio technology in conjunction with another rumored Apple product: Apple Glass.
Transparency mode works very well on the AirPods Pro – it’s arguably one of their best features. However, you only need a transparency mode if the design of an earbud does a good job of passively isolating outside noise. Without silicone cases, it’s doubtful that the AirPods 3 need a transparency mode, but that doesn’t mean Apple isn’t bringing one anyway, as even with an open design there are still benefits like better call quality by being able to hear your own voice more clearly.
It can be hard to question Apple on price, but we already know two things: the AirPods Pro are $ 249, and the AirPods are $ 159 if you buy the model without wireless charging. So any AirPods model that is supposed to be between these two in terms of features must also be between them in terms of price.
We’re guessing that puts the AirPods 3 at $ 199 – the current cost of a set of AirPods with wireless charging. Coincidentally, this is exactly the price predicted by the Korean supplier who spoke to The Elec, who said they will be “20% cheaper” than the AirPods Pro. What happens to the existing AirPods? Apple will leave it at $ 159, but now you can get the wireless charging case at that price.
If Apple decides to just update the base AirPods instead of creating a new product, prices will likely stay exactly where they are.
All sources seem to agree so far that Apple’s new earbuds will appear in 2021. In 2020, Kuo initially predicted the AirPods 3 would arrive in the first half of 2021, and Bloomberg reported a similar timing. Earlier this year, according to AppleInsider, Kuo revised its timing and said in its latest report to investors that we shouldn’t expect the new earbuds until the third quarter of 2021, which means a debut in September is the most likely time.
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