Apple’s AirPods–which dropped with a bit of controversy and little interest back in 2016–hit some kind of inflection point around 2018, and suddenly became the hot thing. This was handily timed for the 2019 updates, as the 2nd-gen and then Pro versions of the AirPods launched to a newly receptive public and sold like the proverbial hotcakes. Then came the AirPods Max in late 2020, the 3rd-generation AirPods in 2021, and the 2nd-gen AirPods Pro in 2022.
Where next, then, for the AirPods? In this article we will look at all the different AirPods, evaluating when Apple might next update them and the new features that could arrive with the next generation. We’ll also discuss rumors that Apple is set to launch a new cheaper AirPods Lite—or AirPods SE—category.
Update December 18: Apple has big plans for the AirPods in 2024 and 2025, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman (more below).
Will there be new AirPods soon?
There are currently three types of AirPods: The standard AirPods, the AirPods Pro, and the AirPods Max. While Apple doesn’t update each category of AirPod every year, it does tend to introduce a new set of AirPods each year. However, in 2023 there were no major updates to the AirPods range, other than a update to the 2nd-gen AirPods Pro that Apple itself didn’t even qualify as significant enough for a generational change. Still known as the 2nd generation AirPods Pro, the ‘new’ model that was introduced in September now comes with a USB-C charging case (replacing the lightning port) and slightly better dust proofing.
So, with no significant update in 2023, what next for the AirPods lineup? According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman Apple plans to overhaul the entire AirPods line starting in 2024 and continuing into 2025.
Gurman indicated in a December 17 newsletter that in 2024 Apple’s wearables business, including the AirPods, will “take centre stage”.
Read on to find out which set of AirPods is likely to be updated first.
AirPods (4th-gen): Rumors and release date:
The AirPods are the entry-level earbuds from Apple. First introduced in 2016 they are now in the third generation.
- September 2016: 1st-gen AirPods launched (available in December 2016).
- March 2019: 2nd-gen AirPods launched.
- October 2021: 3rd-gen AirPods launched.
- Predicted launch March 2024: 4th-gen AirPods.
It’s now been two years since the 3rd-gen AirPods arrived in October 2021, which themselves arrived two and a half years after the second generation launched. On that basis, a spring 2024 update looks likely, most likely March, although we could see something even sooner.
However, there may be more than one new model coming at the entry-level. It is rumored that two models of 4th-generation AirPods are on the way: a cheaper model and a more advanced model. The more expensive model is said to be more of a hybrid between the 3rd-gen AirPods and AirPods Pro.
Gurman claims that there will be two new fourth-generation non-Pro models with updated designs: “new 4th-gen AirPods will look like a hybrid between the 3rd-gen AirPods and AirPods Pro, with short stems”. We can also expect a new look for the cases and USB-C charging. Audio quality will be improved, but only “the upper-end version of the two models will include active noise cancellation, bringing that feature to a lower price point.”
He also suggests that the higher-end of the two models will get a case with a speaker for Find My alerts.
AirPods Lite: Rumors and Release Date
If Apple does introduce cheaper AirPods, as rumored, they may be known as AirPods Lite. There have been rumors that Apple plans to launch new AirPods Lite or AirPods SE headphones for several years.
- Predicted launch March 2024: AirPods Lite.
In January 2023 analyst Ming-Chi Kuo indicated that Apple had plans to launch “more affordable AirPods (with Apple targeting a price of $99)”.
Also in January 2023, analyst Jeff Pu referenced Apple’s plans to introduce the AirPods Lite–a cheaper version of the standard AirPods. Like Kuo, he anticipated a price of $99.
In a report in October 2023, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman discussed how the AirPods lineup might change in 2024. He suggested that Apple intends to replace the current 2nd-gen AirPods and 3rd-gen AirPods with two versions of the 4th-gen AirPods. One cheaper and more basic than the other. The higher-end model offering noise canceling and a case with a speaker for Find My alerts. Gurman claims that the change of strategy from offering the previous generation at a lower price is because the 3rd-gen model doesn’t sell very well because customers don’t feel that it is worth the higher price, or choose to spend a little more for AirPods Pro.
Even in January 2023, Kuo thought we would be waiting until 2024 for this new AirPods category. At that time he suggested that they may not ship until the second quarter of 2024 or even 2025. It is possible that Apple will introduce new AirPods alongside the Vision Pro in early 2024.
AirPods Max 2: Rumors and Release Date
- December 2020: 1st-gen AirPods Max launched.
- Predicted launch March 2024: 2nd gen AirPods Max.
As of the winter of 2023, the AirPods Max are now three years old and due an update–especially in the light of competition from other headphones, including Apple’s own Beats Studio Pro. The AirPods Max cannot even play Apple’s lossless audio, which is an omission that needs to be rectified.
We discuss some of the features we are hoping for in Apple needs to scrap the AirPods Max and start over these include:
- Lighter and foldable.
- USB-C to 3.5mm audio cable in addition to the included USB-C cable.
- A proper case.
- Ability to use them as wired headphones.
- Better sound quality, noise cancellation, and transparency.
We may have to wait until the end of 2024 for an update, though. Gurman suggested in an October 2023 report that the new AirPod Max will come in new colors and offer USB-C, but they “won’t see many other changes.” It is also likely that Apple will incorporate the H2 processor found in the newer AirPods Pro.
The AirPods Max may not be a big concern for Apple though. While Gurman notes in a December newsletter that “Apple also looks to breathe new life into the AirPods Max headphones,” he allows that: “The cans don’t sell well enough for the company to invest in entirely new hardware or software features”.
AirPods Pro (3rd-gen): Rumors and release date
- October 2019: 1st-gen AirPods Pro launched.
- September 2022: 2nd-gen AirPods Pro launched.
- September 2023: USB-C 2nd-gen AirPods Pro launched.
- Predicted launch 2025: 3rd gen AirPods Pro.
We didn’t see new AirPods at the iPhone event in September 2023, but we did see Apple announce that the existing AirPods Pro (2nd gen) would be getting a USB-C charging case. This case can be charged with the same cable as ships with the new iPhone 15-series. Apple revealed that the iPhone 15 can also charge the AirPods Pro. These AirPods Pro are still considered the second generation, but alongside the USB-C charging case, there is also a change to their IP rating, now IP54 (which indicates better dust proofing). They went on sale on September 22.
Apple also updated the wired EarPods with a USB-C cable at the September 12 event, they previously had a Lightning cable.
The second-gen AirPods Pro arrived in September 2022. That update came three years after the first generation launched. On that time scale, we could be waiting until 2025 for an update to the AirPods Pro, but the wait could be even longer.
When they do arrive the big new features for the AirPods Pro 3rd gen are said to be health-related. They are also said to be getting a new design.
How much will new AirPods cost?
If Apple adjusts the AirPods lineup as suggested, we could see some price changes. Apple’s adjusted its pricing structure for its headphones in September 2023 outside the U.S., here’s how much each model costs right now in the U.S. and U.K.:
- Apple Earbuds $19/£19
- AirPods 2nd-gen $129/£129 (was £139)
- AirPoids 3rd-gen (Lightning) $169/£169 (was £179)
- AirPoids 3rd-gen (MagSafe) $179/£179 (was £189)
- AirPods Pro 2nd-gen $249/£229 (was £249)
- AirPods Max $549/£499 (was £549)
The idea that Apple will sell cheaper AirPods, has been knocking around for years. They have generally been referred to as the AirPods Lite and are expected to compete with sub-$100 earbuds. Ming-Chi Kuo refers to $99 as the price target for the AirPods Lite. This compares to the AirPods 2, which are still sold by Apple for $129/£129. It is likely that if Apple introduces the AirPods Lite it will stop selling the older AirPods as a budget offering. Apple’s desire to offer AirPods at this price point would allow it to compete at the lower end of the market. They would effectively be the SE offering for the AirPods, similar to Apple’s Apple Watch SE and iPhone SE.
In a December 2023 newsletter, Gurman wrote that: “The new AirPods should help Apple fix a problem with the existing lineup. The company’s current $179 earbuds–its third-generation, mid-tier model–have been somewhat of a dud with consumers. They look similar to the AirPods Pro, but don’t offer features that are notably better than the $129 second-generation AirPods from 2019.” Gurman suggested that this has left “consumers confused about which AirPods to buy” and that as a result: “Shoppers turn to a competitor’s product, aiming to get comparable features to the AirPods Pro at a lower price”.
Analyst Jeff Pu also thinks that the AirPods Lite may help stimulate interest in the existing lineup.
Other than the price changes at the bottom end of the lineup, it is unlikely that prices will change significantly, especially now that Apple has addressed the unfair pricing outside the U.S.
We have a round-up of the Best wireless earbuds for iPhones and the best wired headphones if you’d like to consider alternatives to AirPods. Also read AirPods Pro vs AirPods to find out how the models compare.
New AirPods specs and features
There are a few limitations that Apple may be addressing with new AirPods.
One area ripe for improvement is the ability to play Apple’s hi-res lossless audio, which the company introduced in June 2021. Bluetooth headphones–including all of Apple’s AirPods–aren’t capable of playing audio at this resolution.
Apple will no doubt be looking for a way to bring this technology to the AirPods Max. The AirPods Max, despite their high price, aren’t currently capable of playing Apple’s hi-res lossless audio. An update in 2023 did bring some capacity to play high-res audio on these headphones if they are used in the wired format. Users can plug in the AirPods Max via the Lightning to 3.5mm audio cable and enjoy better quality sound, but Apple indicates that “Given the analog-to-digital conversion in the cable, the playback will not be completely lossless.”
As with the AirPods Pro, we could just see an update to the 3rd-gen AirPods if Apple adds USB-C charging to the case.
Also likely to get an update is the lightning port on the AirPods charging case. With Apple about to adopt USB-C instead of Lightning across all its product categories, due to a ruling in the European Union, Apple has to move away from Lightning and it’s expected that the 2023 iPhones will have USB-C ports instead of Lightning, for example. The AirPods look set to follow this trend.
Every AirPods case could change to USB-C, according to a tweet from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo in August 2022. It is possible that this update could come at the September 2023 event.
Kuo followed this tweet up in March 2023 suggesting that Apple will introduce a version of the second-generation AirPods Pro later in 2023 with a USB-C charging case. He indicated that the third-gen of the standard AirPods will not get this USB-C update.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman (in a Power On newsletter from October 2022) expects all three AirPods models to move to USB-C by the end of 2023 though. However, Gurman in July 2023 signaled that the company may be prepared to wait a little longer for the non-standard models.
The AirPods Pro, Gurnam said, will stick to their current release cadence, which means the next model, presumably with a USB-C connection, may not arrive until the fall of 2025. It’s unclear whether a new case will be rolled out before then as with the MagSafe case in 2021, though.
An Apple patent describes a way that motion sensors inside AirPods could aid Crash Detection. There have been reports of the iPhone and Apple Watch triggering emergency calls, so it is likely Apple will have to mitigate against this happening with the AirPods.
The big new features for the 3rd-gen AirPods Pro will apparently be health-related. Apple is said to be looking at body-temperature and health tracking.
The Apple Watch already incorporated a temperature sensor, used primarily for the ovulation tracking feature. Apple is said to be keen to build in body temperature measurement features to its earbuds, the ear canal is being a better and more accurate source of such data than a Watch.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple is working on adding a temperature sensor to a future set of AirPods. However, we may have to wait a little longer as Gurman isn’t convinced that this will be ready for the fourth generation.
Bloomberg’s Gurman also believes that hearing health is going to be an area of AirPods innovation, writing in March that Apple’s looking at the “ability to get hearing data of some sort.”
In a report in July, Gurman predicted, a “new hearing test feature that will play different tones and sounds to allow the AirPods to determine how well a person can hear. The idea is to help users screen for hearing issues.”
The current AirPods Pro models already have Conversation Boost and Live Listen that go some way to turn them into semi-hearing aids.
If you’re keen to hear the latest rumors about Apple’s 2024 plans, the best place to start is our roundup: New Apple products 2024.
Those interested in the current range should take a look at our roundup of the best AirPods deals for the latest bargains.
Source : Macworld