Apple took to the stage at its iPhone keynote last night to announce loads of flashy new gadgets but (despite updates to the iPhone, iPad and the Apple Watch) the elusive AirPods 3 were no where to be seen.
Apple unveiled the AirPods 2 (or the AirPods 2019) in March but they were really more of an iterative update than a proper sequel to the original pair. The second gen AirPods brought with them a new wireless charging case and an upgraded processing chip for faster connection speeds, but there was still plenty of room for improvement on the sound front. We want to see the AirPods 3 fix this if they’re going to stay on par with other, significantly more affordable, wireless earphones on the market.
Here’s everything we know − or think we know − about the AirPods 3, based on leaks and rumours.
AirPods 3 – Release date
It’s always tough work estimating the release date of an Apple product that isn’t an iPhone and the AirPods aren’t exactly known for being updated frequently. Eager Apple fans thought that the AirPods 2 might come out before the end of 2018 but we didn’t actually get an announcement until March this year. Even then, the upgrade felt minimal and the earphones were closer to an AirPods 1.5 than an AirPods 2.
We held out hopes that there would be a hint of the AirPods 3 alongside this years iPhone launch but, alas, Apple has decided to keep us in the dark for a bit longer.
To be fair, we’d be very surprised if Apple did decide to release another pair of wireless in-ears this year. Back in December 2018, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that a slightly upgraded version of the AirPods would go on sale in the first half of 2019 with its proper successor launching in 2020. Despite Apple’s generous naming system, Kuo has been spot on so far so we’re most likely looking at a 2020 release for the first true upgrade to the AirPods.
Related: AirPods 2019 review
AirPods 3 – Price
Since they don’t officially exist yet we don’t know how much the AirPods 3 will cost − but we can take an educated guess.
Considering the second generation of AirPods (with the wireless case) cost £199/$199, we’d assume the AirPods 3 will have a similar price tag, unless Apple decides to cram new features into them.
Related: Best headphone deals
AirPods 3 – Design
The AirPods’ design has proved popular despite its limitations, but that doesn’t mean it won’t evolve.
We heard noise cancellation was in the mix for the AirPods (2019), but the design would make that an issue considering they’re not even great at isolating the listener from the surrounding environment. If the AirPods were to get true noise cancellation, the design would have to change significantly to accommodate it.
That report came courtesy of Bloomberg, and it claimed that the earphones will be accompanied by a more traditional pair of over-ear headphones, dubbed Apple StudioPods, though we’ve also heard just as much about those headphones as we’ve heard about the AirPods 3.
There have also been rumours that these AirPods will be able to survive sweat and a bit of rain. Apple has neither confirmed nor denied whether the AirPods have an IPX rating, so here’s hoping the AirPods 3 clear that up.
Following on from its use in the Apple Watch 4, biometric sensing could also feature in the new AirPods to track a user’s heart rate during workouts. With Apple moving more towards services than new products and tying its hardware together as a result, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more of a push in this direction.
Colour options? It would be nice to have colour variations and it’s surprising we haven’t seen that from Apple yet, considering its history of dabbling in various finishes.
AirPods 3 – Charging case
We can tick the wireless charging case off the list, as that launched with the latest version of the AirPods. So which direction could Apple go in next time out?
Remember the long-rumoured, much-touted AirPower wireless charging mat? That’s been ditched.
There were also rumours that Apple was looking at integrating a speaker connection into future AirPods’ charging cases. Here’s a patent detailing a charging case for a wireless listening device such as “a pair of wireless earbuds”, configured to “transmit the media to a non-wireless output device connected to the case.”
From the illustration included alongside the patent (below), it looks as though in practise this will mean that you’ll be able to connect the charging case to an external speaker (ie the “non-wireless output device”).
But why would Apple want to build this functionality into a future charging case? We suspect it might have something to do with the H1 Bluetooth chip that’s behind the rock-solid wireless connectivity of the AirPods.
Related: Best wireless headphones
The case detailed in the patent could allow music to be streamed wirelessly, using the high-quality H1 chip, and then transmit it to a speaker.
Yes, Apple has its own wireless connectivity standard called AirPlay, but providing a means of getting its H1 chip’s connectivity hooked up to speakers would give customers yet more options if they want to play music.
For now this is just a patent, and so it indicates an area that Apple is exploring rather than something it’s explicitly committed to, but it’s another juicy nugget of information that hints at what the AirPods 3 might end up being.