It’s WWDC, and alongside the usual suite of updated software versions for iPhones, iPads, and Macs, Apple also announced four big new features coming to the company’s AirPod headphones this year.
Sure, we didn’t get any new AirPod hardware announcements, but updated features are much more exciting if you already own a pair of AirPods. Here’s what’s coming up.
Find My AirPods
Perhaps the biggest announcement is that Apple’s Find My network – upgraded with the launch of the AirTag tracker earlier this year – has now been improved further to include AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.
The headphones will now emit a secure Bluetooth beacon to the Find My network, meaning that if you leave them behind anywhere you’ll still be able to find them on the Find My map, so long as they’re close enough to any of the hundreds of millions of Apple devices that power the network.
You’ll be able to play a chime from the AirPods when you’re nearby, or use the Proximity View to see when you’re getting closer.
Even better, you’ll also get a separation alert if you stray too far from the headphones, giving you a warning if it looks like you’ve left them behind.
Spatial Audio on tvOS and macOS
Here’s one that isn’t technically a change to the AirPods themselves – but it will make them more useful.
Spatial Audio (another feature that’s exclusive to the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, sorry guys) will soon be compatible with both tvOS and macOS - though only on Macs powered by Apple’s own M1 chip, announced late last year.
Taking advantage of the head tracking tech in the Pro and Max headphones, Spatial Audio will essentially give you dynamic surround sound in your AirPods when watching compatible Dolby Atmos content on your Apple TV or Mac.
That update will arrive in autumn, but in the meantime Spatial Audio arrives on Apple Music today as part of the previously announced Apple Music Hi-Fi update.
This new feature is specifically designed to help those who are hard of hearing – though thanks to the tech involved, it’s unfortunately even more limited: it's exclusive to the AirPods Pro.
Conversation Boost uses those headphones’ beam-forming microphones, together with some fancy computational audio tricks, to focus your audio on the person speaking right in front of you – so as long as you’re looking at someone, you should be able to hear them much better, with other unwanted audio tuned out.
The mode will also come with some upgraded audio options, giving you more control of ambient noise levels to focus your audio further.
While all of the other new AirPod features are limited to specific models, the next new update should work on any AirPods, as it’s powered by Siri on your iPhone.
Apple’s virtual assistant will now be able to read notifications to you through your AirPods. More than that though, it can deliver time- and location-sensitive notifications – telling you when you have a food delivery, or reading you your shopping list as you arrive at the supermarket.
The new feature works with Apple’s new Focus modes – announced as part of iOS 15 – and will also respect your Do Not Disturb preferences, if you’d rather be left in peace.
At WWDC today Apple has so far also announced a new feature called Live Text that allows iPhones to scan text from almost any image, and added the option to schedule FaceTime calls - and allow Android and Windows users to join in.
The new AirPod features are expected to arrive in the autumn alongside updates to iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS - and of course, the arrival of the iPhone 13.