Apple AirPods are instantly recognisable and among Apple’s most popular and successful products ever – despite remaining essentially unchanged since 2016.
The base model was joined by the high-end AirPods Pro in late 2019, offering an improved fit, smaller dimensions and Active Noise Cancellation tech to quieten the world around you when listening to your favourite tunes.
While you might’ve thought that was it for the AirPods range, Apple is rumoured to be working on a handful of new AirPods-branded products as well as updates to the AirPods and AirPods Pro – but which are being released this year, and what can consumers expect? We outline Apple’s current AirPods plans, based on rumours and leaks, right here.
AirPods Studio (2020)
Though the branding isn’t official, rumours suggest the next AirPods to hit the market will be the over-ear AirPods Studio. The name has been confirmed by Jon Prosser, a leaker with an impressive track record, including correctly predicting the iPhone SE’s release date, price and other key features.
In an April 2020 tweet, Prosser claimed that the new AirPods, along with the new MacBook Pro, were ready to launch. The MacBook Pro is here, so it shouldn’t be too long before Apple releases its new high-end headphones. In a later tweet, Prosser pointed towards WWDC 2020 for a launch, but the event came and went with no sign of the AirPods Studio.
In terms of what to expect, rumours suggest the AirPods Studio will be the most expensive product in the AirPods range at a rumoured $349 (around £349 given Apple’s direct conversion with AirPods products). It’s said that the AirPods Studio will feature better active noise cancellation than that of the AirPods Pro, a given considering the over-ear design of the cans. Like with the AirPods Pro, the AirPods Studio are said to feature a Transparency Mode to let you hear your environment around you, and it’s said to take the ear detection feature to the next level too.
The AirPods Studio are rumoured to feature Head and Neck Detection, allowing the headphones to intelligently play and pause music depending on whether you’ve got the headphones on your ears or dangled around your neck. The headphones are also said to feature Orientation Detection, removing the need to put your AirPods on a specific ear, with the headphones able to detect the left and right ears and adjust output accordingly.
For more, take a look at the latest AirPods Max news.
AirPods X (2020)
Also rumoured to be called the AirPods Pro Lite, the AirPods X are said to be a sports-focused pair of wireless earbuds with a similar form factor to Apple’s AirPods Pro, although without the Pro’s standout Active Noise Cancellation support.
Unlike the AirPods Studio, there’s not a lot known about the AirPods X right now aside from a broad release window of September or October 2020, a focus on sports and a rough $200 price tag – that’s according to Jon Prosser, anyway. The release date roughly lines up with predictions from noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and DigiTimes sources, so there could be some truth to the rumour.
While Kuo suggests Apple is working on a sports-focused pair of wireless earbuds, he claims that these could be Beats-branded, rather than AirPods-branded. That goes against recent rumours that suggest Apple is trying to phase out the Beats line and move forward with one single audio product brand – AirPods.
AirPods 3 (2021)
Being the star of Apple’s AirPods line-up, the standard AirPods are due a refresh – but not for a while yet. According to a note to investors from the ever-reliable Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is planning on updating the AirPods, but the mass production of the new buds isn’t planned until the first half of 2021.
That suggests Apple is planning on a mid-to-late 2021 launch for the third-generation AirPods, and this is consistent with a separate report from Nikkei Asian Review, claiming that we won’t see any updates to the main AirPods line until 2021 following a shift of internal plans.
Being so far from a potential launch, it should come as no surprise that details are light on the ground – but that’s not to say there’s nothing available. Along with his release date prediction, Kuo claims that the biggest change will be the upgrade from rigid-flex PCB + SMT to SiP. Amazing, right?
SiP, otherwise known as System-in-Package, is essentially a range of circuits in one or more chips, and it’s the same system that you’ll find in Apple’s AirPods Pro range. While this doesn’t suggest the form factor of the AirPods will change, it does point towards improved performance and sound quality – it might even match the quality of Apple’s Pro buds.
We cover the latest AirPods 3 rumours separately if you want to find out more.
AirPods Pro 2 (2021/2022)
As with the third-generation AirPods, there’s not a lot known about the second-generation AirPods Pro right now beyond a rough release window provided by, yep, you guessed it, Ming-Chi Kuo. The Apple guru claims that Apple is currently planning on beginning mass production of the AirPods Pro 2 in either the fourth quarter of 2021, or the first quarter of 2022, suggesting a late (hopeful) late-2021 or a (more likely) mid-2022 launch.
It’s hard to imagine the second-gen AirPods Pro would boast any huge changes – after all, the current AirPods Pro are praised for noise cancellation, sound quality and fit – but it’ll likely feature internal upgrades. It’s also expected to stay in the £249/$249 range, sitting beneath the rumoured flagship AirPods Studio in terms of pricing and features.
For more headphone inspiration, take a look at our selection of the best wireless earbuds and best headphones too.