Here’s all you need to know about the third-generation AirPods, from release date and pricing rumours to the latest design and feature leaks.
AirPods 3 release date
The first whispers about the possible release of new AirPods came from Apple leaker Jon Prosser, who suggested in a tweet that new AirPods could be released as soon as May 2020. Of course, May has been and gone, and subsequent tweets suggest that Prosser was actually referencing the over-ear AirPods Studio (also as-yet unannounced), and not the third-gen AirPods.
These were expected to be revealed at WWDC 2020, but as we now know, Apple focused solely on software, with no hardware announcements of any kind.
DigiTimes suggests that a product it dubbed 'AirPods Pro Lite' was on schedule for mass production in Q2 2020, but it's possible that these will be the rumoured AirPods X (think Beats X) due for release later this year.
So, when will we see the actual third-gen AirPods? The latest note from famed Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggests the third-gen AirPods won't be released for quite some time yet.
In the note, obtained by MacRumors, Kuo claims that "the third-generation AirPods will go to mass production in the 1H21" (the first half of 2021) and suggests that upcoming audio product rumoured to be released in 2020 will be Beats-branded, not AirPods. In the same note, Kuo claims that the second-gen AirPods Pro won't be released until much later, possibly even 2022.
A follow-up note from Kuo in July 2020 reiterates the expected release date, and sheds a little more light on what to expect - more on that later.
If that wasn't enough, a separate DigiTimes source also claims that Apple is aiming for an H121 release, with manufacturers in Vietnam recently gearing up for production.
If you can’t wait, we suggest taking a look at our pick of the best true wireless earbuds available right now.
AirPods 3 pricing
Generally speaking, new Apple products tend to match the price of their predecessors - currency conversion adjustments aside - so it’s safe to assume that Apple will release the third-gen AirPods with a similar price tag to the AirPods 2 at £159/$159 (or £199/$199 if you opt for the wireless charging case).
With the AirPods Pro priced at £249/$249, we can’t really see Apple raising the price any higher than £199/$199 - it’d blur the lines between the AirPods and AirPods Pro range and Apple would have to offer serious upgrades to charge more than £200/$200 for standard wireless earbuds in 2020.
We at Tech Advisor have long thought that the next-gen earbuds could sport the same design as the AirPods Pro, and a note from respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo seemingly confirms it.
In several notes to investors across June and July 2020, Kuo claims that the upcoming AirPods will ditch the SMT technology for a SiP system similar to that of the AirPods Pro. SiP systems allow manufacturers to pack more components into the small form factor of the buds when compared to SMT systems.
It makes sense from a manufacturing perspective - Apple will only need a single production mold and many of the internals will be identical - and while Apple tried to stave off the use of customisable eartips, the AirPods Pro suggests Apple has revised this stance in favour of improved fit and passive noise reduction.
With that being said, we fully expect the AirPods 3 to sport the same design as the AirPods Pro range, but without the inclusion of ANC technology. There’s no rumour on whether the AirPods 3 will feature upgraded Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, but the fact that the AirPods Pro made the jump suggests Apple’s entry-level earbuds won’t be too far behind - especially if they do share the same design.
There's also whispers about the inclusion of ambient light sensors that enable health monitoring features, and there's a separate AirPods-related patent that could give us a glimpse at Apple's fitness plans.
Discovered by Patently Apple, the AirPods patent details the use of built-in sensors to "gather orientation information such as accelerometer measurements during user movements" with the aim of forming "part of an AirPods system that supplies the user with coaching and feedback while evaluating user performance".
Coaching via Siri would be a great addition for the AirPods, and it'd work perfectly with the rumoured more secure design of the upcoming wireless earbuds.
Another patent awarded to Apple hints at a more safety-oriented feature. It describes using a combination of GPS data and the headphones' positional data to detect the users' location, and do things like adjust volume, pause, or provide directions or safety information.
One example given in the patent suggests that the headphones could "pause or prevent audio playback" if they detect that the user is next to a road, helping them to hear traffic noise and cross more safely - though we'd worry that it would just get in the way and start muting your music every time you try to walk down the street.
What about the AirPods Studio?
It’s possible that Apple will release AirPods-branded over-ear headphones in 2020, but we doubt that they’ll be called AirPods 3 - it’s a different product and needs its own branding.
Instead, it’s rumoured that the upcoming high-end over-ear headphones will be called the AirPods Studio and will cost $349. The existence of the AirPods Studio is also backed up by well-respected Apple analyst Jon Prosser, who correctly predicted the release of the iPhone SE and MacBook Pro earlier this year.