AirPods 4 wish list: 4 features we want Apple to change for its next true wireless earbuds

the apple airpods 3 next to their wireless charging case
(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Apple AirPods 3 are a fine pair of true wireless earbuds, and a big improvement on the AirPods 2 that we saw in 2019. However, they’re not perfect and could use a little refining.

While we’ve yet to hear much about the AirPods 4 that are likely two years away at least considering that all the AirPods releases have been spaced that far apart, we can start talking about what we’d potentially like to see from them in terms of design and features.

That’s not to cast aspersions on the current model - the AirPods 3 have some of the best functionality and feature set for iOS users - but to say that they’re the best true wireless earbuds would be disingenuous. 

Apple, if you’re listening, here are the four major improvements you need to make to the AirPods 4 to elevate them to the top of the pack.

Improvement #1: No more hard plastic shells 

At the top of the list is the uncomfortable hard plastic shell design that truly needs to go ASAP. Look, it worked for the first few iterations of the AirPods. It gave them a distinct style and a space-age aesthetic. But for audiophiles, these were always a huge headache. 

Not only don’t they contour to every outer ear, but the lack of a proper seal means that there’s substantial sound leakage and a lack of bass response. Those are two HUGE problems that other earbuds address by using silicone or foam eartips. 

What’s strange is that Apple knows that it’s a problem - hence why the AirPods Pro use fitted eartips - but the solution hasn’t been implemented in the entry-level model despite their extravagant price tag.

Improvement #2: It’s time for a new Apple wireless codec that’s better than AAC 

Apple understands that audio-lovers want hi-res audio. The company has made significant investments in Apple Music by adding spatial and lossless audio support, but remains chained to an old wireless audio codec, AAC, that was developed back in the ’90s. 

Codecs, for those who haven’t even heard the term before, are essentially the bridges that we use to encode and decode audio data as it’s passed through a Bluetooth connection. The smaller that bridge, the less information can be passed, which equates to worse sound.

Apple needs to take a page from Sony’s book to create a new codec along the lines of LDAC, that will allow us to inch ever closer to the goal of Hi-Res Audio over Bluetooth. That’s easier said than done, obviously, but it’s something that would absolutely have a big impact on the end user experience.


The next AirPods should absolutely have some level of noise cancellation instead of Adaptive EQ (Image credit: Apple)

Improvement #3: It’s time for noise cancellation to come to AirPods 

From a marketing perspective, it made sense for Apple to keep the noise cancellation feature exclusive to the AirPods Pro. The company needed some very obvious way to distinguish the AirPods from the AirPods Pro, and the solution was noise cancellation.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Other manufacturers offer noise cancellation at multiple price points, and varying degrees of power. Sony offers a base version of noise cancellation with its Sony WF-SP800N and a better version of it with its flagship Sony WF-1000XM4.

Apple doesn’t need to offer its absolute best, cutting-edge noise cancellation in its basic AirPods model, but it does need something a little better than Adaptive EQ to prevent outside noise from wreaking havoc on your music.

Improvement #4: It’s time for USB-C to replace Lightning ports 

The days of Apple making proprietary ports are quickly coming to an end. The European Commission has already announced plans to force all electronics makers to implement USB-C ports on their rechargeable devices in an effort to curb e-waste, which could go into effect in as soon as two years - the earliest potential release date for the AirPods 4. 

Apple has previously objected to that proposal by saying that it would “stifle innovation rather than encourage it” but if it wants to put users - and the world - first, it’s the right move.

There’s no telling if Apple will give up its proprietary port easily - as its existence allows Apple to pick and choose which accessories are compatible with its devices - but a true universal charging port is a consumer-friendly move that could really benefit the AirPods 4.

Nick Pino

Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.