The Apple AirPods 3 that everyone really wants remain elusive in 2019, and our ears, in desperate need of noise-canceling true wireless earbuds, hang in wait.
Admittedly, the new AirPods (2019) do have some cool new features, like the ability to charge wirelessly. Still, they aren't quite the all-out AirPods 3 reimagining we were hoping for, and they don't beat rivals like the Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Earbuds and the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1s in terms of noise-cancelation and audio quality.
The good news is that the next-generation of Apple AirPods could be right around the corner. We've heard rumors about noise-canceling and even waterproof Apple earbuds for nearly a year at this point, and now some analysts are saying that they'll arrive by the end of the year or, at the very latest, early on in 2020.
The iPhone 11 launch has come and gone with no mention of the AirPods 3 – so, everything is pointing to a 2020 release date for the new true wireless earbuds.
[UPDATE: The new Apple AirPods 3 will reportedly come with noise cancelation and a comfier fit, according to 9to5Mac, who dug into the iOS 13.2 beta to discover an icon depicting the buds, as well as information on different listening modes.]
One of the best sources of Apple AirPods 3 rumors comes from a 2018 report from TF International Securities’ analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. He said that we could be getting two more headphones before 2020 – an updated version of the original Apple AirPods (check) and the brand new AirPods 3.
Apple's WWDC 2019 keynote took place on June 3, but it was too soon for Cook and co. to announce the new AirPods 3 then – after all, the updated AirPods (2019) only came out two short months before and Apple used WWDC to announce a pair of significant new features coming to the true wireless buds.
Now that Apple has released a brand new iPod touch (7th Generation) in anticipation of Apple Arcade this autumn (September - November 2019), it's possible that the company will launch the AirPods 3 around the same time.
We're not totally surprised, as it wouldn't make sense for Apple to release the AirPods 3 so soon after it brought out the upgraded model.
So, with everything pointing to a 2020 release, what do we actually hope to see in the AirPods 3, and how will they improve on Apple's bestselling true wireless earbuds?
Apple AirPods 3: Cut to the chase
- What are they? The long-awaited AirPods 3 (not to be confused with the recently updated AirPods (2019) true-wireless earbuds.)
- When are they out? Our best guess is early 2020, but nobody knows for sure.
- How much will they cost? Probably similar to the AirPods (2019), which start at $159 (£159/AU$249) – though they could jump to $199.
Apple AirPods 3: release date
Now that Apple has released an updated 2019 version of the original AirPods, we're not expecting the AirPods 3 to be coming out any time soon.
Kuo's predictions have been pretty accurate, right down to the AirPods 2019 connectivity upgrade, so we're betting on an early 2020 release for the AirPods 3, especially as we didn't see them at the iPhone 11 launch.
We originally expected the upgraded 2019 AirPods to be significantly different from their predecessors thanks to trademark and Bluetooth SIG filings, but we now know that's not the case.
That doesn't mean we won't ever see these features in the next version, however. We wouldn't be surprised if Apple was saving features like biometric sensors, new color schemes, and waterproofing for the AirPods 3.
AirPods 3 price and availability
Our best guess is that the AirPods 3 will be priced similarly to the current AirPods, which cost $159 / £159 / AU$249 / AED679 with the standard charging case, and $199 / £199 / AU$319 / AED829 with the new Wireless Charging Case bundled in.
According to Bloomberg, the new AirPods are "likely to be more expensive than the current $159 model," but we'd be very surprised if they exceed $200.
The final price will likely come down to the features that the new AirPods 3 sport. Before we go into the features we're expecting from the AirPods 3 in 2020, let's take a look at what's new with the current AirPods...
- Can't wait? Here are the best true wireless AirPod alternatives on sale now
What's new with the AirPods (2019)?
Apple hasn't changed much in terms of design in its latest update to the AirPods – instead, the next-gen improvements seem to be largely under-the-hood.
Inside the buds there's a newly-designed H1 chip which Apple has built specifically for the headphones. It improves connectivity pairing times, the efficiency of the battery life, and allows for hands-free 'Hey Siri' functionality.
New for the AirPods 2019 is the wireless charging case for the earbuds, which means you can use Qi-compatible charging mats to power the case without having to stick a cable in.
As for sound quality, the 2019 upgraded AirPods are no different from the ones you could get in 2016.
- Apple AirPods (2019) vs Apple AirPods: what's the difference?
Apple AirPods 3: rumors
The new Apple AirPods 3 will reportedly come with noise cancelation and a comfier fit, with silicone or rubber tips giving listeners more choice when it comes to their Apple earbuds.
SlashLeaks has shared a hazy image from contributor Leakspinner that it says shows the AirPods 2 "in the wild".
If this leaked image is genuine, we could be in for an even more compact Apple AirPods charging case – and potentially smaller earbuds. It would make sense, as true wireless earbuds are getting smaller as the technology improves, and the AirPods' long stems was subject to ridicule when they were first revealed in 2016.
We're not totally convinced though – the image is so blurry, there's no way of confirming whether its a legitimate Apple prototype. You can check out the image below and decide for yourself.
Previous trademark filings suggest that the second generation AirPods would be a health and fitness device, in addition to being a pair of true wireless earbuds. Now we know that the updated AirPods don't have these features, we think we will see them in the AirPods 3 in 2020.
Back in July 2018 Apple filed a patent for biometric sensors, which would allow the AirPods 3 to take on fitness tracking capabilities like those seen in the Jabra Elite Wireless. This followed another patent filed in March, which further fueled the rumors.
We also heard separately that the AirPods 3 would come in black and white, be both waterproof and offer active noise-cancellation, features that have similarly been predicted by Bloomberg. Another patent from July suggested that Apple was working on some pretty nifty tech for how the earbuds handle outside noise as well as dissipating pressure from inside the ear canal.
The patent outlined a valve system that would allow sound to escape your ear canal to avoid that weird reverberating effect that occurs when you speak with earbuds in your ears.
It then goes on to describe how the earbuds would handle ambient noise, using a microphone to filter in noise from the outside world so that you can remain aware of your surroundings while still hearing your music.
One rumor that did prove to be accurate however was wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.0 - but instead of being an improved thanks to an updated W2 chip, Apple has designed a brand new H1 chip, which is made for headphones specifically.
Apple AirPods 3: what we want to see
Only a couple of years ago, companies were struggling just to get true wireless earbuds working, but now the goalposts have already shifted to packing more and more functionality into their shells.
The stunning Sony WF-1000XM3 manage to include noise-cancelation technology inside their diminutive shells, and we were hoping see similar functionality make it to the second generation of AirPods.
Apple’s fancy ambient noise technology outlined above suggested the company is thinking along these lines, and as it didn't make the cut for the 2019 upgrade, we're expecting to see noise-cancelation in the AirPods 3.
Better audio quality
Companies like Sony and more recently, Cambridge Audio, have proven that true wireless earbuds can sound just as good as their wired, and even their over-ear counterparts.
If Apple can harness the audio quality offered by the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 true wireless earbuds, as well as keeping the cost down, the company could be on to a real winner.
More physical controls
Apple isn’t much of a fan of buttons, but there are some cases where they save you a lot of time and effort, and headphones are one of these instances.
On-board controls have become an almost essential feature in headphones in recent years, allowing us to control music playback and volume without having to struggle to get our phones out of our pockets.
Now the 2016 AirPods did allow you to control music in a sense, but they relied entirely on Siri, Apple’s voice assistant.
New to the 2019 upgraded AirPods is the ability to double tap the right earbud to start your music up if it’s paused or skip to the next track if you’re currently playing a track...and that's it.
We'd like to see the AirPods 3 take this further, allowing you to skip backwards and forwards more easily. What would be really great, would be to put those long stems to use and add in some swipe volume controls.
Changeable ear tips
Apple likes to rely wholly on sleek white plastic, but we aren’t a fan of the lack of rubber tips on the AirPods, especially when there’s no cable to catch them if they fall.
We want any true wireless earbuds to feel nice and secure in the ears, and including a number of changeable ear tips so we can select those that perfectly fit our ears would be the ideal way of achieving this.
One individual in the TechRadar office even went to the length of fixing some rubber tips from an alternative pair of headphones onto their AirPods to make them feel more secure.
We weren't expecting Apple to change it's rather rigid design aesthetic with the 2019 update, but here's hoping it will for the AirPods 3.
Better Android pairing
Given that Apple likes to ensure all its products are designed to work as a family this has little chance of happening, but we’d love to see the AirPods play slightly nicer with Android phones.
On iPhones, pairing is a dream. You simply hold the AirPods near your phone and they connect more or less automatically.
However with Android the process is a lot more complicated and involving jumping into settings menus to select the AirPods manually. We’d love to see Apple simplify this process for the AirPods 3, though we're not holding our breath.
Different designs and colors
We get it, Apple likes white things. But in an era where iPhones and iPads are available in a range of different colors we’d love to see this same courtesy extended to the AirPods.
We just want our headphones to match our phone and our Apple Watch; is that so much to ask?
Although Apple has experimented with different colors for its various devices, its earbuds have always stayed the same iconic white. Still, the AirPods 3 are rumored to be coming in a second black option as well.
Longer battery life
When the original AirPods were released way back in 2016, their five-hour battery life was rather impressive; now, it's lagging behind the competition.
With the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 true wireless earbuds, you get nine hours from the buds themselves, and a further 36 hours of juice contained within their charging case.
It's clear that true wireless technology has moved on since the AirPods were first released – and so far, Apple hasn't moved on with it.
- Prefer Samsung? Check out our Samsung Galaxy Buds review