It's safe to say that the audio product development team over at Apple has been, shall we say, busy. In the last several months, Cupertino has given us Apple's first tiny smart speaker, the HomePod mini, as well as Apple's first pair of over-ear headphones, the AirPods Max — at the cost, apparently, of the original HomePod. (RIP, HomePod.)
Also rumored to be in the works? The third-generation version of the original AirPods. Because, well, of course they'd in the works. You think Apple would give up on something like the headphones that redefined Bluetooth earbuds?
It's been two years since Apple announced the second-generation AirPods back in March 2019, and despite looking identical to the original AirPods (which were first announced 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 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 more 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.
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 aren't likely to be released until later this year. They were likely 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 you likely won't be able to get your hands on these next-generation AirPods until the early fall.