The last pair of wireless earbuds that Apple released was the AirPods Pro in late 2019. Since then Apple has released a bunch of new audio products, including the AirPods Max and the HomePod mini, and even integrated its H1 chip in a number of Beats wireless earbuds (including the brand-new Studio Buds), but it seems like Apple is gearing up to finally give us the third-generation AirPods we've been waiting for.
Remember, it's more than two years since Apple announced its second-generation AirPods back in March 2019, and despite looking identical to those original AirPods that were first released in late 2016, they delivered several key upgrades, such faster switching between devices, support for hands-free "Hey Siri," and an optional wireless charging case. With the upcoming third-generation AirPods, however, the upgrades are expected to be more than just under the hood.
Here's what we know so far.
The new earbuds will probably look like the AirPods Pro.
The third-generation AirPods are, according to a 52Audio leak, expected to look way more like the AirPods Pro then they do the second-generation AirPods. That means shorter stems and a design with swappable silicone ear tips. Basically, the new models should have a more secure fit than previous AirPods.
They could have some AirPod Pro features.
According to Bloomberg, it's unlikely that the third-generation AirPods will have many of the AirPods Pro's premium features, such as noise-canceling and transparency modes. However, the new AirPods might support "spatial audio." This uses the built-in accelerometer and gyroscope in each earbud and adjusts the audio depending on the position of each ear. It's big upgrade for those watching a video or movie on your iPhone, iPad or Mac.
It's unclear if support for spatial audio would also mean that the third-generation AirPods would support for immersive sound technologies, like Dolby Atmos, just like the AirPods Pro. It would be cool, though.
No support for lossless audio, unfortunately.
Apple announced that Apple Music is, come June 2021, turning into a lossless streaming service at no extra cost. Which is great. However, very few of Apple's audio products will be able to play these lossless music files in all their lossless glory. The HomePod and HomePod mini will (via a future software update) because they stream music of Wi-Fi, but all its Bluetooth-streaming wireless headphones and earbuds — meaning AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max — will not. This means that Apple's next-generation AirPods will likely not support lossless streaming as well.
Better touch controls are likely.
One of the biggest improvements that the AirPods Pro have over the AirPods is its touch controls. While AirPods require you to double-tap an earbud to play audio, skip songs or initiate Siri, the AirPods Pro have actual force sensors on each earbud that you can actually feel — they're great. These same force-sensor controls are expected to be featured on the third-generation AirPods.
Counterfeits have been spotted — so watch out.
Apple obviously hasn't announced its third-generation AirPods just yet, so if you see some out in the wild already — they're fake. There have been a number of fake AirPods sightings online (most recently by Twitter user DuanRui, here), but don't be fooled. Even though these fake AirPods have the same new design as many of the rumors are suggesting, you'll have to wait several months (or longer) before getting the first true glimpse of Apple's new AirPods.
They might not be coming until late this year.
According to Ming-Chi Kuo, a well-known Apple leaker, the third-generation AirPods were supposedly set to be announced (or even released) in March 2021, but the pandemic pushed everything back; now, mass production of these new AirPods allegedly isn't set to begin until the third quarter of 2021. This means that there's a good chance that Apple will announce (and release) these next-generation AirPods in September alongside the iPhone 13 and Apple Watch Series 7.