There was no sign of the AirPods Pro Lite at WWDC 2020 – although the AirPods Pro were given a hefty upgrade that allows for immersive Dolby Atmos sound and a nifty auto-switching feature.
Rumors surrounding a new version of the AirPods Pro, the so-called AirPods Pro Lite, have been circling since mid-February, after a report from DigiTimes claimed that the new true wireless earbuds will launch in the first half of 2020.
The next big release window could be in September, the month in which Apple usually launches its latest iPhone – this year we're expecting to see the iPhone 12.
The AirPods Pro Lite will reportedly be an entry-level version of the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro, which suggest the rumored wireless earbuds might be cheaper the most expensive Apple earbuds currently on the market.
Despite no official confirmation from Apple, and very hazy details on the earbuds, we’ve even been hearing reports on how the current coronavirus outbreak will stall production on the AirPods Pro Lite – and then later reports disparaging these claims.
Even though we know very little about the AirPods Pro Lite – or if they even really exist – that hasn’t stopped us from dreaming up a wishlist of all the specs and features we’d like to see from a new pair of AirPods Pro true wireless earbuds. Plus, we take a look at all the news and rumors we've heard so far.
[Update: Apple has been awarded a number of new patents, one of which suggests that the next AirPods could come with a nifty feature for fitness fans.
Cut to the chase
- What are they? A rumored cheaper version of the AirPods Pro.
- When will they be released? They could launch this year, but that's TBC.
- How much will they cost? Likely under $249 / £249 / AU$399, the price of the AirPods Pro.
AirPods Pro Lite release date
There's been a bit of back and forth with AirPods Pro Lite release date rumors – reports of a 2020 release date are being countered pretty much as soon as they're revealed.
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).
However, we think we will be seeing some new Apple headphones in 2020. That's partly because respected tech analyst Jon Prosser recently tweeted that a new pair of Apple earbuds are "ready to ship".
Prosser didn't elaborate on 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.
We've also seen some pretty hefty Apple headphone discounts in recent months, suggesting that Apple could be shifting stock ahead of a release.
If the AirPods Prosser mentions are the AirPods Pro Lite, the next feasible release window is in September, the month in which Apple usually launches its latest iPhone – this year we're expecting to see the iPhone 12.
AirPods Pro Lite price
If the rumored AirPods Pro Lite really are an entry-level version of the AirPods Pro, we’d expect them to be significantly cheaper than their pricy siblings. At $249 / £249 / AU$399, the original Pros are pretty expensive, even more so than the best true wireless earbuds you can buy in 2020, the Sony WF-1000XM3.
We’d like to see the AirPods Pro Lite at a similar price to the 2019 AirPods; at $159 / £159 / AU$249, they aren’t cheap, but they’re much more affordable. It would be even better if Apple could launch a pair of true wireless earbuds at the $100 / £100 / AU$150 mark, as that would really shake up the competition with a genuinely affordable pair of Apple earbuds.
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AirPods Pro Lite: what we want to see
We don’t think there would be much point in releasing an entry-level version of AirPods Pro if they didn’t come with its best feature: active noise cancellation.
This was a true upgrade over the original AirPods, and signaled a shift in the true wireless earbuds market that means we can now expect to see features previously reserved for premium over-ear headphones in cordless models.
The noise cancelation offered by the AirPods Pro is very good indeed, particularly for true wireless earbuds. We’d also expect to see the Transparency feature continued in the AirPods Pro Lite, which allows sound to pass through the buds when you want to quickly tap into your surroundings.
A streamlined design
The AirPods Pro offered a much lighter and more streamlined build than the 2019 AirPods, and we’d like to see a development of that design in the rumored AirPods Pro Lite. As the Pros offered shorter stems than there predecessors, it would be interesting to see whether Apple could take this even further, perhaps getting rid of the stems entirely in favor of a Samsung Galaxy Buds-style look.
We don’t think that’s very likely, considering how iconic the AirPods design has become in recent years, and the fact that the AirPods Pro come with touch-sensitive controls built into the stems.
If Apple does keep the protruding stems we’d love the brand to include haptic feedback when you touch them – it would add a little bit of tactility to the user experience that we think would be really beneficial.
Speaking of the design, some earfins wouldn’t go amiss to appeal to the running crowd. While we find that the AirPods Pro are generally quite secure during workout sessions, some extra security could win over diehard fans of the earhook-toting Beats Powerbeats Pro.
Another way to steal some custom from Beats (and therefore itself)? Adding some cool color options to the AirPods Pro Lite. If they really are a cheaper version of the AirPods Pro, and therefore not a flagship product, what’s the harm in a little experimentation? We’d love to see true wireless earbuds in the same space gray and rose gold colors we’ve seen with some iPhone and MacBook Pro models.
It's been rumored that 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.
Whether these light sensors are headed for the AirPods Pro Lite or the so-called AirPods 3 is unclear at this stage, but we think they'd be a great addition to the Pros, which can already track your hearing health by monitoring the volume of your music.
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".