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AirPods Pro Lite: how can Apple cut the cost of its premium true wireless earbuds?

Airpods Pro
The Apple AirPods Pro. (Image credit: Shutterstock.com)

Apple is rumored to be launching a number of new headphones in 2020, including the first-ever pair of Apple over-ear headphones and the new Beats Powerbeats 4 – but the most interesting of Apple’s rumored new products are the AirPods Pro Lite

They’re said to be an entry-level version of the AirPods Pro, the brand’s most premium true wireless earbuds, which feature active noise cancellation and better sound than their predecessors, the 2019 Apple AirPods

These rumors have been circling ever since a report from DigiTimes claimed that the AirPods Pro Lite will launch in the first half of 2020, and it’s been speculated that they’ll be cheaper than the original AirPods Pro.

But, if the 2019 AirPods are the brand’s current entry-level true wireless earbuds, where will the new AirPods Pro Lite fit into the picture? And can Apple truly offer a less-premium version of the Pros without losing the features that differentiate them from the original AirPods?

What does 'Lite' even mean?

The 2019 Apple AirPods are the most popular true wireless earbuds on the planet – and for good reason, with their no-frills minimalist Apple design, easy connectivity, and decent audio quality. 

They certainly aren’t the best true wireless earbuds you can buy (that honor goes to the Sony WF-1000XM3), but they might be the most accessible to the non-audiophiles among us – and they aren’t too pricey, either.

When the AirPods Pro launched in late 2019, they brought premium features to the popular Apple earbuds, including an upgraded fit and active noise cancelation, a feature we’re seeing increasingly in true wireless earbuds in 2020. 

With those premium features came a premium price, with the AirPods Pro costing $249 / £249 / AU$399; that’s considerably more expensive than their predecessors, which start at $159 / £159 / AU$249. If the AirPods Pro Lite really are an entry-level version of the AirPods Pro, we’d expect them to be significantly cheaper than their pricey siblings.

It’s entirely possible that the name AirPods Pro Lite is more literal than we thought; it could be that Lite refers entirely to the design, and that they’re simply a smaller version of the AirPods Pro, with a look that eschews the long ear stems which the AirPods popularized. There could be no change to the price at all.

We don’t think that’s super-likely, though. Just take a look at other naming conventions in the world of tech; for example, the Nintendo Switch Lite is a cheaper and less high-spec version of the original Nintendo Switch. Other examples include the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite and the Huawei P30 Lite, both cheaper, less premium versions of flagship smartphones. 

In the example of the Nintendo Switch Lite, the handheld games console retained its most important features (i.e, it can still play all the same games as the original Switch), offered a more portable design, but lost the ability to be played on a big screen or the convenience of detachable Joy-Con controllers. 

Why bother doing this? Well, it allowed Nintendo to attract customers who couldn’t afford the original Switch, which means more people buying their games, paying for their subscription service, and buying into the Nintendo ecosystem. 

The AirPods Pro come with silicone eartips, an improvement upon the originals.

(Image credit: Apple)

Attracting more customers

The same strategy could benefit Apple immensely – but only if the brand can offer the AirPods Pro Lite at a lower price without losing the original Pro’s best feature, active noise cancelation.

This was a true upgrade over the original AirPods, and signaled a shift in the true wireless earbuds market that means we can now expect to see features previously reserved for premium over-ear headphones in cordless models. 

We don’t see much point in Apple launching a new version of these earbuds without ANC, and we also think that the AirPods Pro Lite will probably sport a similar design to the current model. If Apple wants to give them a lower price, it doesn’t make sense for the company to spend lots of money making differently-shaped parts in its factories.

Otherwise, Apple could keep costs down by using cheaper materials – though the largely plastic design of the AirPods Pro doesn’t really leave much wiggle room. 

Instead, we think it’s more likely that Apple will get rid of a non-essential premium feature: the Wireless Charging Case. Apple could offer two different price points as it does with the regular AirPods – this could knock about $40 / £40 off the price of the AirPods Pro based on the difference between paying for the AirPods with the standard charging case and the Wireless Charging Case.

Of all the possibilities, we think this is the most likely, though we’ll  have to wait and see. At this stage, we don’t even know whether the Apple AirPods Pro Lite truly exist – but if they do, a lower price without sacrificing too many of the things that we loved about the AirPods Pro could help Apple to continue to dominate the true wireless market in 2020.