The AirPods are amongst the most popular true wireless earbuds on the market at the moment, offering a seamless experience for Apple users unmatched by most of the competition, but even great products like AirPods need an upgrade every now and again. That looks to be on the cards soon and, if rumours are to be believed, it’ll be a complete redesign instead of a slight improvement.
Here’s all you need to know about the AirPods 3, from release date and pricing rumours to the latest design and feature leaks.
AirPods 3 release date
A DigiTimes report (translated via MacRumours) that claims Apple is gearing up to release what the publication calls “AirPods Pro Lite” in the coming months. Per the Taiwanese site, “chip and component suppliers [are] gearing up for new AirPods production” with plans to launch the new earbuds by the end of Q2 2020.
While we dispute the AirPods Pro Lite branding - more on that later - the Q2 2020 release does roughly line up with the release of the second-gen AirPods back in 2019, so there could be some truth to the report, but DigiTimes doesn’t have the best track record with rumours like this so we’d take it with a pinch of salt.
However, rising leaker Jon Prosser - who correctly predicted the release of the iPhone SE - claims the new AirPods are "now ready to go" in a recent tweet. He suggests that the AirPods will make an appearance alongside an updated MacBook Pro at some point in May. This aligns with the earlier rumour, and given Prosser's recent track record with his leaks, suggests this could be true.
But while it feels like the May release is a given, the latest note from famed Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggests the AirPods won't be released until much later. In the note, obtained by MacRumors, Kuo claims that "the third-generation AirPods will go to mass production in the 1H21" and suggests that the rumoured upcoming audio product will be Beats-branded, not AirPods.
With two sources - with great track records - suggesting polar opposite release schedules for the next-gen AirPods, it's tough to say when the AirPods will be released. If it is May, as Prosser suggested, we don't have long to wait now...
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 AirPods 3 with a similar price tag to the AirPods 2 at £159 (or £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 - 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 for standard wireless earbuds in 2020.
The DigiTimes report, mentioned above, describes AirPods with a similar build to the AirPods Pro but without Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). The publication describes these as AirPods Pro Lite, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to us - AirPods Pro without ANC are just AirPods, right?
Just like with the MacBook, iPhone and iMac ranges, Apple tends to go with a standard and Pro moniker. There are a few deviations here and there with products like the iPad mini, but calling the new AirPods the AirPods Pro Lite will only introduce confusion amongst consumers.
What does make more sense is that Apple is gearing up to produce the next-gen AirPods 3 and intends to use the updated AirPods Pro design. It makes sense from a manufacturing perspective - Apple will only need a single production mold and most of the internals will be identical across both - 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 have made the jump suggests Apple’s entry-level earbuds won’t be too far behind - especially if they do share the same design.
What about the AirPods X?
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 X and will cost $399 - that’s what a leaked Target product listing suggests anyway. The existence of the AirPods X is also backed up by well-respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who correctly predicted the release of the second-gen AirPods and AirPods Pro back in 2019.
Kuo also goes on to claim that the AirPods X will launch alongside a number of new products in the first half of 2020, so it’s entirely possible that we’ll see the AirPods 3 and AirPods X revealed at the same time in the not-too-distant future.