Not long now until iOS 17 becomes readily available to all – and there is a whole slew of Adaptive Audio, Mute and Unmute, Automatic Device Switching, and Dark Mode perks in the pipeline, depending on which set of Apple's ever-popular AirPods lineup you own.
Just to clarify the state of play before we get into it, at the time of writing (Aug. 11) the third public iOS 17 beta has arrived (on Aug. 9), but you still need a separate software update for the AirPods, and that's currently only available in dev beta. Ergo, the iOS 17 beta doesn't update the AirPods so we're somewhat in limbo – "you can" have these upgrades now if you pay for the dev beta. For most of us, it's "you will" get these features in September. Got it? Good.
1. Adaptive Audio (read: Adaptive Noise Control)
Adaptive Audio (which you may prefer to think of as Adaptive Noise Control) is an AirPods Pro 2 exclusive feature that merges ANC and Transparency modes into a seamless all-in-one listen engineered to adjust the volume of what you're streaming based on your immediate surroundings – and of course, your interactions throughout the day.
Noise control will work to nix extraneous environmental sounds (think airplane jet engines, AC units, the low thrum of traffic on a highway), while making sure you don't miss anything you might want to hear, eg. your flight attendant asking whether you'd prefer the meat-free option.
And another bit that's specific to AirPods Pro 2 is this: as noted by MacRumors, with the updated firmware, activating the Adaptive Audio feature can be done (after connecting the AirPods) by opening Control Center, long pressing on the volume, and selecting the "Adaptive" option that joins Transparency and Noise Cancellation.
2. Conversation Awareness (never miss the gossip)
Technically, Conversation Awareness is part of Adaptive Audio, but it's such a neat perk it deserves its own entry. This feature is able to detect when someone is speaking, a bit like Sony's Speak to Chat tech, which arrived in 2020 with Sony WH-1000XM4 over-ears, although that responds to your voice, not those of people around you. Apple's answer detects a conversation striking up in your immediate vicinity, lowers the volume of your music, and cuts down on background noise while enhancing the voices in front of you so you get the scoop.
Do we still think not removing your earbuds in the office when someone comes over is rude? One for the water cooler, maybe.
3. Personalized volume (your iPhone's getting to know you)
Again, this is all part and parcel of Adaptive Audio, but Personalized Volume deserves a mention because it adjusts the sound of what's playing based on your own personal preference and the ambient sound around you.
Yes, your iPhone is actually able to learn more about your preferred listening volume, over time, tailoring to match your desired sound level as necessary.
4. Mute and unmute during calls with new on-ear functionality
This one isn't just for AirPods Pro 2. By pressing the stem of the AirPods Pro, AirPods Pro 2 or third-gen. AirPods 3, you can mute and unmute yourself while you're on a call. This also works on AirPods Max if you press the button-slash-dial on the right ear cup behind the headband during calls, aka the Digital Crown.
5. Automatic device switching, but snappier
The AirPods Pro 2 can automatically switch between Apple devices much quicker in iOS 17. Will we get triple multipoint device connectivity, as first seen in the Technics EAH-AZ80? Apparently not. In fact, my wish for manual control plus a few of the updates we'd hoped to see (universal EQ adjustment, a battery saving mode, Auracast) aren't here… but still, this update will doubtless appeal to the iOS ensconced.
6. Dark mode, but darker
This is a small one, but when you connect AirPods to an iPhone with Dark Mode enabled (not to be confused with iPhone's excellent Do Not Disturb mode), the connection popup will also be in Dark Mode – a notable perk for those of us eagerly cueing up our dark wave playlists.
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Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.