When will we see the Apple AirPods 3? With nearly two years having passed since the last iteration of Apple’s true wireless earbuds, the AirPods (2019), there are naturally already murmurs of another updated model coming our way.
While there were rumors of the Apple AirPods 3 crashing into the market before 2020 was out, they never materialized – and now everything is pointing to a 2021 release date.
According to 9to5Mac in a report from June 2020, the prolific Apple analyst believes that Apple “will continue to sell second-generation AirPods through this year’s holiday season”, replacing the popular wireless earbuds with the AirPods 3 “in the first half of 2021”. That release date has recently been backed up by a Bloomberg report, which cites “people familiar with the plans”.
Most recently, we’ve seen what could be the first images of the Apple AirPods 3 from 52audio, along with claims that they’ll be announced in March 2021, which backs up a tweet from prolific leaker Jon Prosser, who claimed they’ll launch on March 16 (though he also predicted they’d be announced with the Apple AirPods Max, which already launched in late 2020).
The new ‘Pods will apparently take their design cues from the AirPods Pro, which ditched the rigid plastic tips and super long ear stems of the 2019 Apple AirPods, in favor of silicone eartips and a sleeker look. Whether that means they’ll come with noise cancellation as well remains to be seen.
Cut to the chase
What are they? A new version of the Apple AirPods.
When will they be released? Everything’s pointing to a 2021 launch.
How much will they cost? Likely similar to the current AirPods.
Since the original Apple AirPods launched in 2016, the true wireless earbuds have dominated the headphones market, becoming an icon of the company’s slick design customs and user-friendly technologies.
They weren’t perfect though – and in 2019, the upgraded AirPods (or AirPods 2, if you will) were furnished with Apple’s H1 chip, which brought with it faster pairing times, longer battery, and a cool hands-free ‘Hey Siri’ feature.
These second-gen true wireless earbuds were a definite improvement upon their predecessors – but they were still easily eclipsed by the likes of the Sony WF-1000XM3, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1, and Apple’s own AirPods Pro in 2019.
While we haven’t heard any confirmation from Apple that it will be launching the AirPods 3 this year, we’ve still had plenty of time to come up with a wish list of all the features we’d want to see from the company’s next true wireless earbuds.
Apple AirPods 3 release date
While we have a few ideas about the specs we might see with the new earbuds, a firm AirPods 3 release date still eludes us.
It was initially rumored that they would launch in 2020, but as we’ve entered 2021, the word is that the Apple AirPods 3 will launch in March.
According to Ming-Chi Kuo, an often-cited and often-correct Apple analyst, the third generation AirPods, are likely to enter mass-production in the first half of 2021.
Backing this up is a report from Digitimes (via WCCF Tech), which said that Apple’s supply chain partner Inventec will “still be among the assemblers of Apple’s next-generation AirPods slated for release in the first half of 2021, but may account for 20% or less of the total orders demanded, according to industry sources”.
Furthermore, a report by Bloomberg suggested that the upgraded true wireless earbuds could launch in 2021, alongside the AirPods Pro 2 and another HomePod smart speaker – though whether a new smart speaker will launch so soon after the Apple HomePod mini is unclear.
Citing “people familiar with the plans”, the report says that “the technology giant is working on two new models: third-generation entry-level AirPods and the second version of the AirPods Pro earbuds”.
Apple AirPods 3 price
The Apple AirPods 3 are expected to be cheaper than the AirPods Pro, which cost $249 / £249 / AU$399, possibly costing the same as the current AirPods (2019) with Wireless Charging Case.
That would set their price at $159 / £159 / AU$249. Saying that, it’s possible that they could be more expensive, particularly if Apple adds more premium features like active noise cancellation and support for Spatial Audio.
Whether there will be a cheaper version with a standard (non-wireless charging case) remains to be seen – though with Apple’s focus on wireless charging with the iPhone 12, it doesn’t seem likely.
Apple AirPods 3 design
A new image of what could be the upcoming wireless earbuds has surfaced online, potentially giving us our first look at the next Apple earbuds.
The image, which was leaked by 52audio, shows what the site claims are the third-generation AirPods and charging case.
The image backs up some of the previous rumors we’ve heard about the Apple AirPods 3, including the fact that they’ll sport shorter ear stems like the Apple AirPods Pro.
Based on the photograph, it doesn’t look like the new AirPods will have silicone eartips like their noise-cancelling siblings, though a render provided by 52audio shows what looks like detachable silicone eartips included with the buds. Giving users the option to swap the tips in and out would certainly appease fans of both the original AirPods and the newer AirPods Pro.
Aside from catering to more ear-sizes, silicone or foam eartips provide a better seal, and therefore superior noise isolation, and passive noise-reduction – making your music sound better, while simultaneously preventing the entire world from earwigging on your favorite songs.
52audio also claims that the true wireless earbuds will feature similar pressure-relieving air vents to make the earbuds comfortable to wear for long periods, and will sport touch-sensitive controls.
The charging case appears to be more like what you get with the original AirPods, rather than the more rectangular case provided with the AirPods Pro, though there is now an LED battery indicator on the front.
However, it’s important to take this image with a hefty pinch of salt.
As MacRumors points out, the publication has previously shared images it claimed were of the third-generation AirPods, which were later proven to actually be faked images of the current-generation AirPods Pro.
Saying that, the photograph and accompanying renders backs up previous rumors that the new AirPods will look very similar to the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro.
According to TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has made a number of correct Apple predictions in the past, the AirPods 3 will “adopt a compact system-in-package (SiP) solution similar to AirPods Pro”, in a research note obtained by MacRumors.
According to electronics manufacturer Octavo Systems, system-in-package “integrates multiple Integrated Circuits (ICs) along with their supporting passive devices into a single package”, as opposed to cramming lots of components into one piece of silicone.
In other words, it allows for product-makers to create smaller devices, and it’s a technique that was used by Apple in its creation of the AirPods Pro.
The AirPods Pro are significantly smaller than the original AirPods, with shorter ear stems – that’s in spite of the wireless earbuds packing in active noise cancellation technology and a new Dolby Atmos spatial audio feature, which requires an inbuilt gyroscope and accelerometer.
Apple AirPods 3 features
While many of the AirPods 3 rumors have focussed on the design of the new earbuds, there’s been lots of speculation on the kind of features we can expect to see when they’re finally launched.
A focus on fitness
Apple is planning to fit ambient light sensors to future versions of the AirPods – sensors which could make them much more useful as health monitoring devices, akin to the best fitness headphones in the world.
A report in DigiTimes (via MacRumors) passes on information from the Apple supply chain that production of these ambient light sensors is being ramped up, quite possibly to get ready for some brand new wireless earbuds.
There are a lot of dots to join here, and there isn’t necessarily just one way to join them – but that said, it would make a lot of sense for Apple to want to boost the fitness tracking capabilities of future AirPod models, much as it did with the Apple Watch.
Apple has also recently been awarded a number of new patents, one of which suggests that the next AirPods could come with a nifty feature for fitness fans.
According to Patently Apple, the patent describes AirPods that use inbuilt sensors to “gather orientation information such as accelerometer measurements during user movements”.
The true wireless earbuds could then communicate via Bluetooth with an iPhone, and “may form part of an AirPods system that supplies the user with coaching and feedback while evaluating user performance of a head movement routine or other exercise routine”.
This could be particularly useful for exercises like yoga, with the AirPods providing realtime feedback on a user’s head tilts, poses, and stretches.
Future Apple AirPods – including the rumored AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro Lite – could automatically pause or lower the volume of your music if they detect hazards in your surroundings, according to a patent granted to the company on August 11.
The patent describes a pair of true wireless earbuds that are capable of adjusting their audio output based on the user’s activities and location, including “adjusting audio volume, stopping or preventing audio from playing, providing feedback, directions, encouragement, advice, safety information, instructions, and the like”.
Using a combination of GPS data from a smartphone or smartwatch and positional data from the earbuds themselves, the patent describes how future AirPods could help users stay safe while near busy roads:
“As one non-limiting example, the sensing device may determine that the wearable audio device engages both ears and that the user is at a side of, or on, a road.”
The earbuds would then “pause or prevent audio playback” through the speaker adjacent to the road, allowing you to hear traffic while still listening to music through the other earbud.
Speed data, presumably taken from a built-in accelerometer in the AirPods themselves, could also be used to keep cyclists safe, by pausing music when the speed is above a certain threshold.
Active noise cancellation
As we mentioned, Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested that the AirPods 3 will look most like the AirPods Pro, with silicone eartips and a sleek look.
Whether that means they’ll come with noise cancellation as well remains to be seen – MacRumors editor Joe Rossignol has speculated that the AirPods 3 will simply be a cheaper version of the AirPods Pro with noise cancellation removed.
More recently though, 52audio has said that support for active noise cancellation is likely, and it’s certainly possible if the earbuds do take their design cues from the AirPods Pro.
Another feature that 52audio has deemed likely is Spatial Audio. Apple’ Spatial Audio is the company’s answer to Dolby Atmos for Headphones, designed for the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max over-ear headphones.
It takes 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos content and applies directional audio filters, placing sound in a 3D sphere.
What’s unique to Spatial Audio though, is that it uses the built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes inside Apple’s earbuds and headphones to track the position of your head, as well as the position of your iPhone or iPad.
That means that, when you watch films on your iPhone or iPad, the sound will always be placed correctly based on the action on the screen – so, if you turn your head or shift your device, it will still sound as though the sound is coming from the screen.
While some outlets have predicted touch-sensitive controls like the AirPods Pro, it’s possible the AirPods 3 will make use of more futuristic methods. In 2020, Apple was awarded a patent that described some of the cool features we could see in future AirPods models, including the ability to control the true wireless earbuds with futuristic ‘in-air gestures’.
The patent, which was spotted by Patently Apple, describes how in-air gestures – for example hovering a hand over the AirPods – could work alongside the touch controls already employed by the AirPods Pro, allowing you to trigger different actions.
Another patent has since described AirPods that could automatically pause or lower the volume of your music if they detect hazards in your surroundings.
Better battery life
According to Bloomberg, Apple is looking to improve the battery life of the AirPods, which currently comes in at a rather meager 24 hours. We certainly hope this the case – though if 52audio is to be believed, the onboard 5-hour battery life provided by the buds themselves won’t be increased, with any improvements possibly only applying to charging case.
True wireless earbuds like the Lypertek PurePlay Z3 (Tevi) have shown that cutting the cord doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your battery life – and there’s really no need for the AirPods to only be offering a measly five hours of playback in 2021.
Apple AirPods 3: what we want to see
Better sound than the AirPods 2
The AirPods (2019) were an improvement upon their predecessors in terms of connectivity, but the sound remained exactly the same as the originals – and that audio technology is now four years old.
They have a lively, powerful presentation, although they can sound slightly harsh when it comes to higher-frequency sounds, and they aren’t the bassiest earbuds on the market.
There’s no reason why Apple couldn’t take a cue from these companies and really develop the sound of their earbuds, with more accurately-tuned drivers for improved bass response and rolled-off trebles – after all, the company has proved it possible with the AirPods Pro.
Bluetooth 5 and aptX HD support
Apple needs to get with the times in this respect – Bluetooth 4.2 is positively dated these days, with most new wireless headphones coming with support for the latest wireless transmission standard, Bluetooth 5 (and some, like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 even support Bluetooth 5.1).
Bluetooth 5 brings longer pairing distances, more reliable wireless connectivity, and more efficient power usage, which means headphones that support it come with longer battery lives.
Meanwhile, aptX HD support would allow for wireless streaming of Hi-Res Audio codecs at 24-bit/48kHz – which Qualcomm claims makes for better-than-CD quality.
What about the AirPods Pro 2?
We’re also awaiting the release of the so-called AirPods Pro 2, which could be an entry-level version of the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro.
November 2019 brought us the AirPods Pro, which came with active noise cancellation, a better fit, and superior audio quality. Despite no official confirmation from Apple, and very hazy details on the earbuds, we even heard reports on how the current coronavirus outbreak will stall production on the AirPods Pro Lite – and then later reports disparaging these claims.
Rumors surrounding the Apple AirPods Pro 2, a new version of the AirPods Pro, have been circling since last year, after a report from DigiTimes claimed that the new true wireless earbuds will launch in the first half of 2020.
Of course, they never materialized – and now everything is pointing towards a 2021 release date after a report from Bloomberg (among others) claimed the AirPods Pro 2 would launch this year, and could be subject to a pretty dramatic design overhaul, getting rid of the protruding ear stems that made the original AirPods so instantly recognizable.
Since then, Japanese blog MacOtakara, which is often right in its Apple predictions, alleged that the AirPods Pro 2 will arrive in April 2021 alongside the iPhone SE 3.
Even so, there does seem to be some confusion over whether Apple would upgrade the AirPods Pro or bring out a cheaper, Lite version of the earbuds. Not too long ago, we were told by one tipster that the updated headphones wouldn’t appear until late in 2021.
If they are an entry-level version of the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro, the rumored wireless earbuds might be cheaper than the most expensive Apple earbuds currently on the market (though a recent price leak may have scuppered hopes of cheap AirPods).
In the meantime, don’t miss our wishlist of all the things we’re hoping to see from the AirPods Pro Lite.