‘AirPods Lite’ could be the cheap Apple earbuds we’ve been waiting for

Close-up of the AirPods 3
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Ivan_Shenets)

There’s nothing like a juicy Apple rumor to kick off 2023 in style, and word on the street is that the tech giant is working on a set of lower-priced AirPods to compete with cheaper wireless earbuds in 2023. 

The news comes by way of analyst Jeff Pu, who claims – in a research note seen by 9to5Mac – that Apple is developing an “AirPods Lite” product to sit below its mainline AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max models. 

The former have been succeeded by AirPods (2019), AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 2 true wireless earbuds in recent years, but Apple hasn't yet released an audio product designed to compete with the best budget wireless earbuds on the market. 

Pu makes no mention of AirPods Lite pricing or features in his report, though it’s safe to assume that these supposedly entry-level AirPods would arrive bearing a cheaper price tag than the AirPods 3, at least (which currently retail for $169 / £179 / AU$279). 

Following the release of these third-generation earbuds in October 2021, Apple opted to keep their predecessors, the AirPods (2019), available to buy for the markdown price of $129 / £139 / AU$219 – so we could see the AirPods Lite step in and replace these ageing earbuds at a similar price point.

AirPods (2019), AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro side-by-side comparison

A side-by-side comparison of the AirPods (2019), AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro (Image credit: Shutterstock / Ivan_Shenets)

If indeed they are in development, we’d also wager that Apple’s cheap AirPods will stick with the AirPods 3’s shorter-stemmed design – which, as above, would give Tim Cook's behemoth reason to phase out the AirPods (2019) entirely – while omitting costly premium features such as head-tracked personalized spatial audio and MagSafe charging.  

The AirPods 3’s IPX4 water resistance might prove a cost-cutting sacrifice on the AirPods Lite, too, though we’d anticipate seeing the latter retain the custom H1 chip that allows for seamless iOS pairing across the AirPods range. 

It’s worth noting that rumors surrounding AirPods Lite earbuds first appeared back in 2019, with some outlets reporting that the AirPods Pro’s coin-shaped batteries might be used in future generations of lower-priced AirPods (which turned out to be the AirPods 3 in 2021). 

Now, though, the AirPods Lite rumor mill looks to be churning once again, and we expect to hear more detailed rumblings of the earbuds’ price, features and more general development in the months to come. 

Analysis: a cheaper 'AirPods Lite' option might certainly benefit Apple, given the cost of living crisis 

Apple retail store

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The question of why Apple may be preparing to step outside of its typically premium product sphere is a difficult one to answer at this stage, though uninspiring AirPods sales projections could play a part in the decision. 

Pu’s report suggests year-on-year AirPods sales are expected to drop by 10 million in 2023 owing to “soft AirPods 3 demand” and the expectation that Apple won’t be releasing new premium AirPods this year. 

More generally, demand for lower-priced products appears to be on the up in all manner of consumer categories in 2023. Major streaming services like Netflix, Disney Plus and HBO Max, for instance, recently launched ad-supported subscription tiers in a bid to offer subscribers greater financial freedom despite the controversial nature of these packages. 

Apple has always been the sharpest tool in the toolbox when it comes to turning a profit, and regardless of the company's perceived premium reputation, the opportunity to cash in on consumers’ desire for lower-priced audio products may be too good to miss.  

Axel Metz
Phones Editor

Axel is TechRadar's UK-based Phones Editor, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest AI breakthroughs as part of the site's Mobile Computing vertical. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.  Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.