Rumors of the Apple AirPods 3 have been circulating for ages, and a new report by Bloomberg suggests that the upgraded true wireless earbuds could launch in 2021, alongside the AirPods Pro 2 and another HomePod smart speaker.
Citing "people familiar with the plans", the report says that "the technology giant is working on two new models: third-generation entry-level AirPods and the second version of the AirPods Pro earbuds".
According to Bloomberg, "the models will join other new Apple audio devices like the HomePod mini" and the upcoming over-ear headphones, the AirPods Studio, which are expected to launch towards the end of this year.
- Apple AirPods 3 release date, news, and rumors
- Apple HomePod mini vs Apple HomePod: what's new with the compact smart speaker?
- Read our Apple AirPods Pro review
The report backs up previous rumors that the new AirPods will look more similar to the AirPods Pro with shorter ear stems and silicone ear tips – but they won't come with active noise cancellation like their pricier siblings.
Happily, Apple is apparently looking to improve the battery life of the AirPods, which currently comes in at a rather meagre 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the AirPods Pro will apparently get a much bigger design overhaul, eliminating the ear stems altogether, for a "more rounded shape that fills more of a user's ear" – perhaps taking a few design cues from the Samsung Galaxy Buds and the Google Pixel Buds.
That design isn't set in stone, however. Bloomberg says that fitting the features of the AirPods Pro, including the antennas and microphones, into a more compact build has been a challenge so far, which "could result in a less ambitious design when the final product is finalized".
Another HomePod... again?
It's not all about earbuds – according to Bloomberg's sources, Apple is looking into a new HomePod that sits in between the original smart speaker and the newer, far smaller HomePod mini.
It will apparently also represent a mid-point between the two in terms of price and sound quality; the original HomePod cost cost $349 / £319 / AU$499 when it launched in 2018, while the HomePod mini is far cheaper at just $99 / £99 / AU$149.
Having waited so long for a new HomePod model, it seems strange that Apple would release yet another new version just months after it announced the HomePod mini – we daresay Apple will wait a while to see how the new HomePod performs before committing to another model.
In any case, the report bodes well for those of us who are hoping for new AirPods in 2021 – while the original AirPods were given a slight upgrade in 2019, they can't compete with the best true wireless earbuds in 2020.
The AirPods Pro fared much better thanks to their improved audio quality and active noise cancellation, but they too could benefit from a more streamlined design and a longer battery life.
What about the AirPods Studio?
The AirPods Studio were initially rumored to launch in 2020, but multiple setbacks have pushed that expected release date to the end of the year, or perhaps even as late as March 2021.
According to Bloomberg, "the headphones were due to go into production weeks ago, but that was pushed back due to problems with the headband", with that part being deemed "too tight" during testing. That headband reportedly won't be interchangeable as rumored, but the AirPods Studio could still include interchangeable ear pads.
It was rumored that the AirPods Studio would include large touch pads on each housing – which was backed up by leaked images of the new headphones – but apparently, Apple has now reduced the size of those panels, which could change the design quite dramatically.
As well as that, Apple has apparently "scaled back some of the interchangeable functionality of the headphones", which was said to allow users to wear the AirPods Studio any way they liked, with the left and right channels always fed through to the correct side.
If these rumors are proved true, the AirPods Studio may not be the super-smart noise-cancelling headphones we've been hoping for – though at this stage, we just want to see them in the flesh. Here's hoping they don't go the same way as the Apple AirPower wireless charging mat, which was cancelled before it even saw the light of day.
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Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.