Skip to main content

Apple AirPods 3 release date, rumors, and what we want to see

airpods 3
(Image credit: Shutterstock.com)

When will we see the Apple AirPods 3? With over a year having gone by since the last iteration of Apple's true wireless earbuds, the AirPods (2019), there are naturally already murmurs of another updated model coming our way.

While there have been rumors of an Apple AirPods 3 crashing into the market before 2020 is out,  comments from industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggest we may be waiting a while longer – he speculates that the next-gen AirPods would start mass production in early 2021, with a new AirPods Pro model arriving in 2022 too (via AppleInsider). 

According to 9to5Mac, the prolific Apple analyst believes that Apple "will continue to sell second-generation AirPods through this year’s holiday season", replacing the popular true wireless earbuds with the AirPods 3 "in the first half of 2021". 

It's still possible that the AirPods 3 will launch this year – though with no mention of the new earbuds at either WWDC 2020 or Apple's September 2020 event, time is starting to run out.

The new 'Pods will apparently take their design cues from the AirPods Pro, which ditched the rigid plastic tips and super long ear stems of the 2019 Apple AirPods, in favor of silicone eartips and a sleeker look. Whether that means they'll come with noise cancellation as well remains to be seen.

Cut to the chase

  • What are they? A new version of the Apple AirPods.
  • When will they be released? At the earliest September 2020, but we think 2021 is more likely.
  • How much will they cost? Likely similar to the current AirPods (from $159 / £159 / AU$249).

Since the original Apple AirPods launched in 2016, the true wireless earbuds have dominated the headphones market, becoming an icon of the company’s slick design customs and user-friendly technologies. 

They weren’t perfect though – and in 2019, the upgraded AirPods (or AirPods 2, if you will) were furnished with Apple’s H1 chip, which brought with it faster pairing times, longer battery, and a cool hands-free ‘Hey Siri’ feature. 

These second-gen true wireless earbuds were a definite improvement upon their predecessors – but they were still easily eclipsed by the likes of the Sony WF-1000XM3, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1, and Apple’s own AirPods Pro in 2019.

While we haven’t heard any confirmation from Apple that it will be launching the AirPods 3 this year, we’ve still had plenty of time to come up with a wish list of all the features we’d want to see from the company’s next true wireless earbuds. 

AirPods 3 release date

While we have a few ideas about the specs we might see with the new earbuds, a firm AirPods 3 release date still eludes us. 

A 2020 isn't out of the question; a May 2020 tweet from Prosser claimed that a new pair of Apple earbuds were "ready to ship". 

Prosser didn't share which model it could be – after all, there are multiple model names being floated around, including the AirPods Pro Lite and the AirPods 3 – but he has said that they are not the AirPods Studio, which are said to be Apple's first over-ear headphones.

Despite this, we aren't counting on a 2020 release date.

According to Ming-Chi Kuo, an often-cited and often-correct Apple analyst, the third generation AirPods, aka the AirPods 3, are likely to enter mass-production in the first half of 2021.

More recently, a report from Digitimes (via WCCF Tech) said that Apple's supply chain partner Inventec will "still be among the assemblers of Apple's next-generation ‌AirPods‌ slated for release in the first half of 2021, but may account for 20% or less of the total orders demanded, according to industry sources". 

As for new AirPods Pro? Any AirPods Pro Lite aren't going to see the light of day until the fourth quarter of 2021 – at the earliest – with an early 2022 launch more likely.

AirPods 3 rumors

An AirPods Pro design

AirPods 3 rumors are streaming in, with the latest tip to reach us suggesting that the new AirPods will look very similar to the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro

According to TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has made a number of correct Apple predictions in the past, the AirPods 3 will "adopt a compact system-in-package (SiP) solution similar to AirPods Pro", in a research note obtained by MacRumors.

According to electronics manufacturer Octavo Systems, system-in-package "integrates multiple Integrated Circuits (ICs) along with their supporting passive devices into a single package", as opposed to cramming lots of components into one piece of silicone.

In other words, it allows for product-makers to create smaller devices, and it's a technique that was used by Apple in its creation of the AirPods Pro.

The AirPods Pro are significantly smaller than the original AirPods, with shorter ear stems – that's in spite of the wireless earbuds packing in active noise cancellation technology and a new Dolby Atmos spatial audio feature, which requires an inbuilt gyroscope and accelerometer.

A focus on fitness

Apple is planning to fit ambient light sensors to future versions of the AirPods – sensors which could make them much more useful as health monitoring devices, akin to the best fitness headphones in the world.

A report in DigiTimes (via MacRumors) passes on information from the Apple supply chain that production of these ambient light sensors is being ramped up, quite possibly to get ready for some brand new wireless earbuds.

There are a lot of dots to join here, and there isn't necessarily just one way to join them – but that said, it would make a lot of sense for Apple to want to boost the fitness tracking capabilities of future AirPod models, much as it did with the Apple Watch.

Apple has also recently been awarded a number of new patents, one of which suggests that the next AirPods could come with a nifty feature for fitness fans

According to Patently Apple, the patent describes AirPods that use inbuilt sensors to "gather orientation information such as accelerometer measurements during user movements".

The true wireless earbuds could then communicate via Bluetooth with an iPhone, and "may form part of an AirPods system that supplies the user with coaching and feedback while evaluating user performance of a head movement routine or other exercise routine".

This could be particularly useful for exercises like yoga, with the AirPods providing realtime feedback on a user's head tilts, poses, and stretches.

Safety features

Future Apple AirPods – including the rumored AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro Lite – could automatically pause or lower the volume of your music if they detect hazards in your surroundings, according to a patent granted to the company on August 11. 

The patent describes a pair of true wireless earbuds that are capable of adjusting their audio output based on the user's activities and location, including "adjusting audio volume, stopping or preventing audio from playing, providing feedback, directions, encouragement, advice, safety information, instructions, and the like". 

Using a combination of GPS data from a smartphone or smartwatch and positional data from the earbuds themselves, the patent describes how future AirPods could help users stay safe while near busy roads:

"As one non-limiting example, the sensing device may determine that the wearable audio device engages both ears and that the user is at a side of, or on, a road."

The earbuds would then "pause or prevent audio playback" through the speaker adjacent to the road, allowing you to hear traffic while still listening to music through the other earbud.

Speed data, presumably taken from a built-in accelerometer in the AirPods themselves, could also be used to keep cyclists safe, by pausing music when the speed is above a certain threshold.

No noise cancellation

If rumors are to be believed, the new AirPods 3 won't look very different from their predecessors, with all the material changes taking place under the hood. 

As we mentioned, Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested that the AirPods 3 will look most like the AirPods Pro, with silicone eartips and a sleek look. 

Whether that means they'll come with noise cancellation as well remains to be seen; MacRumors editor Joe Rossignol has speculated that the AirPods 3 will simply be a cheaper version of the AirPods Pro with noise cancellation removed. 

Gesture controls

Apple has also been awarded a patent that describes some of the cool features we could see in future AirPods models, including the ability to control the true wireless earbuds with futuristic 'in-air gestures'

The patent, which was spotted by Patently Apple, describes how in-air gestures – for example hovering a hand over the AirPods – could work alongside the touch controls already employed by the AirPods Pro, allowing you to trigger different actions. 

Another new patent has described AirPods that could automatically pause or lower the volume of your music if they detect hazards in your surroundings.

AirPods 3: what we want to see

Better sound than the AirPods 2

The AirPods (2019) were an improvement upon their predecessors in terms of connectivity, but the sound remained exactly the same as the originals – and that audio technology is now four years old. 

They have a lively, powerful presentation, although they can sound slightly harsh when it comes to higher-frequency sounds, and they aren’t the bassiest earbuds on the market.

Since the launch of the original AirPods, the sound quality offered by true wireless earbuds has soared; just look at the Sony WF-1000XM3 or the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1

There’s no reason why Apple couldn’t take a cue from these companies and really develop the sound of their earbuds, with more accurately-tuned drivers for improved bass response and rolled-off trebles – after all, the company has proved it possible with the AirPods Pro.

Adjustable eartips

While we did respect Apple’s refusal to amend the design of the AirPods – for a time – we think it’s time that it furnished the true wireless earbuds with adjustable eartips, just like it has with the AirPods Pro. 

Why? Well aside from catering to more ear-sizes, silicone or foam eartips provide a better seal, and therefore superior noise isolation, and passive noise-reduction – making your music sound better, while simultaneously preventing the entire world from earwigging on your favorite songs.

airpods

The AirPods (2019) (Image credit: Future)

Better battery life

True wireless earbuds like the Lypertek Tevi have shown that cutting the cord doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your battery life – and there’s really no need for the AirPods to only be offering a measly five hours of playback in 2020. 

Sure, the charging case offers a further 20 hours of battery, but that number is far surpassed by lots of models on the market these days – and many of them are far cheaper, too. 

Bluetooth 5 and aptX HD support

Again, Apple needs to get with the times in this respect – Bluetooth 4.2 is positively dated these days, with most new wireless headphones coming with support for the latest wireless transmission standard, Bluetooth 5 (and some, like the new Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 even support Bluetooth 5.1). 

Bluetooth 5 brings longer pairing distances, more reliable wireless connectivity, and more efficient power usage, which means headphones that support it come with longer battery lives.

Meanwhile, aptX HD support would allow for wireless streaming of Hi-Res Audio codecs at 24-bit/48kHz – which Qualcomm claims makes for better-than-CD quality.

Dolby Atmos spatial audio

We know that the Apple AirPods Pro are getting a hefty firmware upgrade, which will allow for Dolby Atmos spatial audio, bringing immersive 3D sound to your true wireless earbuds.

Announced at the company's WWDC 2020 keynote, the new feature will work in 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos, which positions sound all around you within a virtual sphere. 

We'd love to see this feature replicated in the AirPods 3, especially with growing support for Dolby Atmos Music among streaming services.

The AirPods (2019)

The AirPods (2019) (Image credit: Future)

What about the AirPods Pro Lite?

Before we see the AirPods 3, we’re expecting the release of the so-called AirPods Pro Lite, an entry-level version of the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro.

November 2019 brought us the AirPods Pro, which came with active noise cancellation, a better fit, and superior audio quality. Despite no official confirmation from Apple, and very hazy details on the earbuds, we even heard reports on how the current coronavirus outbreak will stall production on the AirPods Pro Lite – and then later reports disparaging these claims. 

While initial rumors suggested new 'regular' AirPods would crash into the market before 2020 is out, but recent comments from industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggest we may be waiting a while longer – speculating that the next-gen AirPods would start mass production in early 2021, with a new AirPods Pro model arriving in 2022 too (via AppleInsider).

In the meantime, don’t miss our wishlist of all the things we’re hoping to see from the AirPods Pro Lite.

The next Apple headphones could be an over-ear model like the Beats Studio 3 (pictured).

The next Apple headphones could be an over-ear model like the Beats Studio 3 (pictured). (Image credit: TechRadar)

Will the AirPods 3 be over-ear headphones?

It’s possible that the next Apple headphones we see in 2020 will be a pair of over-ear cans – but we don’t think they’ll be called the AirPods 3.

Instead, it's rumored that the first over-ear Apple headphones will be called the AirPods Studio, after a Target product listing went live, accidentally leaking the rumored Apple headphones, and revealing a $399 (about £300 / AU$699) price tag. 

According to a report by respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who correctly predicted the release of the upgraded Apple AirPods and the AirPods Pro in 2019, the wireless headphones were meant to launch alongside a number of new products in the first half of 2020. However, Kuo has now amended that prediction to late 2020 – and suggested that these inside rumors were actually about a new Beats headphones model, rather than anything in the AirPods range (via AppleInsider).

Whether we see the AirPods 3, the AirPods Pro Lite, or the AirPods Studio in 2020 remains to be seen – especially with so many companies experiencing production delays as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Either way, Apple is almost certainly going to keep us busy in the coming couple of years.