(Pocket-lint) - Apple's AirPods have been highly successful since they first arrived over four years ago. Since the first generation, we've had the second-gen model in early 2019 in the AirPods 2 or AirPods with wireless charging as they were officially called, followed by the truly spectacular AirPods Pro.
While we'll cover the rumours surrounding the second generation of AirPods Pro within this feature, we're mostly concerned with the product we'll call AirPods 3 - the update of the main AirPods.
For all the rumours surrounding the AirPods Pro 2, you can read our separate feature.
What will the new AirPods be called?
- Probably just AirPods
- Could have a 3rd generation suffix
Given Apple's penchant for sticking with the same name, we anticipate that any replacement product for the current AirPods would still be called, simply, AirPods.
Maybe they would have a '3rd generation' addendum, but they'd almost certainly still be AirPods and we believe that rumours they'd be called AirPods Lite or AirPods Pro Lite are way off the mark.
Release date and price
- Possibly 18 May
Given that we saw the AirPods 2 launched in March 2019, our money is on the first half of 2021 for a new release. There was an Apple Special Event held on 20 April, but no AirPods were announced.
A rumour has suggested we could see the third-generation AirPods on 18 May though.
In terms of price, if it was any other company, it could be possible that the AirPods 3 would seek to target the $99/£99 market, which seems to be becoming the key battleground for true wireless earphones. But Apple tends not to worry too much about price point so it's more likely they will come in at around $150/£150.
Design and new features
- Shorter design like AirPods Pro?
- Sweatproof fitness version could be on the way
A new version of the standard AirPods could adopt a slightly shorter design like the AirPods Pro. A few leaked images suggests their design will sit in between the AirPods 2 and the AirPods Pro.
Water-resistance has long been rumoured as has some noise reduction technology. They are unlikely to have full active noise cancelling because that would require a tight seal and, as such, will surely remain the preserve of the more expensive AirPods Pro.
There could also be a number of other hardware upgrades including a new chip - the W2 has been suggested, longer battery life and more talk time. They'll surely once again have a wireless charging case but we think it unlikely they'll have any kind of noise-cancelling, instead leaving that to the AirPods Pro.
Rumours for the older AirPods 2 originally predicted that the new AirPods might feature a new coating to make them more grippable and less droppable, while also coming in black and white colour options. Could this happen for AirPods 3?
Will there be an AirPods Sport version?
- A fitness version is a no-brainer
- Could they be fully waterproof?
The AirPods Pro are water and sweat resistant but they are not waterproof or sweatproof. We still think it possible that there could be a fitness-orientated version of the AirPods that's both water and sweatproof. Sweat is a headphone killer, but our AirPods Pro are doing just fine, thanks.
If they were waterproof it would be rather cool if you could take them swimming with Apple Watch swim tracking. More likely though, they will be water and sweat resistant like the AirPods Pro.
AirPods Pro 3: All the rumours so far
Here are all the details in chronological order for the new AirPods.
14 May 2021: Will Apple's AirPods 3 launch on May 18?
According to a leak from YouTuber Luke MIani as reported by 9to5Mac via the Apple Track site, Apple will launch the AirPods 3 next week.
20 April 2021: Apple Event confirmed: Here's when we'll get a new iPad Pro, iMac, AirTags
Apple sent out invitations to an event on 20 April, with the invite featuring the tagline Spring Loaded. The AirPods 3 could appear at the event alongside AirTags and new iPads, though nothing is confirmed as yet.
16 April 2021: Another leaked image of the new AirPods
Another image surfaces, corroborating previous leaks and making the new AirPods look a lot like a slightly less in-ear version of the AirPods Pro.
15 March 2021: Maybe they won't launch until later in 2021
Infamous Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo now suggests that the new AirPods won't launch until the third quarter of 2021 - presumably alongside the next iPhone. We had thought they would debut in late March. Kuo believes the new headphones aren't ready yet, which isn't what it looks like below...
11 March 2021: Here's what the Apple AirPods 3 might look like
A leak from LeaksApplePro shows some hands-on shots of what the AirPods 3 could look like.
9 March 2021: Apple set to announce 23 March event for AirTags and new iPads
A report has claimed Apple will hold an event on 23 March. The long rumoured AirTags are expected, alongside new iPads and there has also been a mention of AirPods at the currently unconfirmed event.
22 February 2021: Are these our first glimpse of Apple's next AirPods?
52Audio posted an image of what is claimed to be the AirPods 3. The image shows a design very similar to the AirPods Pro but without the moulded tips.
The case is a little wider than the AirPods 2 case but less wide than the Pro case, while the earphones themselves are clearly but subtly different than the existing AirPods on the market.
19 February 2021: Will there be an Apple Event on 16 March?
LeaksApplePro reported that an Apple event could take place on 16 March. The AirPods 3, new iPads and the long-rumoured AirTags are all rumoured to appear.
27 January 2021: Apple AirPods 3 could be coming soon, another report suggests
A report from Digitimes claimed the AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods 3 are set to launch in the first half of 2021 after a flash storage supplier was said to be ramping up production.
10 January 2021: Apple AirPods Pro 2 to launch in April 2021
A report from Macotakara claimed the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 2 could arrive in April 2021, alongside the iPhone SE.
9 December 2020: Apple launches AirPods Max
Apple launched a pair of high-end, wireless over-ear headphones called AirPods Max. Long-rumoured, we thought they would be called AirPods Studio. They use much of the same tech as the AirPods Pro, but with bigger sound and a striking metal design.
September-November 2020: Apple Special Events take place, but no AirPods
Apple hosted its Time Flies Special Event on 15 September, announcing the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, new entry-level iPad, new iPad Air and new services including Fitness+. Then in October it launched the iPhone 12 series while in November it hosted the event that saw the Mac lineup start to move from Intel to Apple's own processors.
8 September 2020: Apple announces Special Event
Apple announced it would be holding a virtual Special Event on 15 September. It is not known what will be announced at the event, but the AirPods 3 are a possibility.
8 July 2020: Apple AirPods 3 predicted to move towards AirPods Pro design
A report suggests the AirPods 3 will take on a new design similar to the AirPods Pro. TF Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims the third gen model will move to a system-in-chip solution like the AirPods Pro.
22 June 2020: Automatic switching coming to all AirPods models
As part of iOS 14, AirPods will seamlessly switch between Apple devices, so if you open up your MacBook, iPhone or iPad, your AirPods will detect when you're changing the desired audio source to a new device. Quite how this will work in practice is interesting, because what if somebody else starts to use your other device? Hopefully, it will be customisable.
Also spatial audio is coming to AirPods Pro - including support for Dolby Atmos - thanks to head tracking tech inside the premium AirPods. We'd love to see this inside the AirPods 3.
8 May 2020: Apple producing some AirPods in Vietnam, potential AirPods 3 delay
Nikkei says that Apple has shifted some AirPods production out of China into Vietnam. The report also seems to signal a delay in production that could see the new model delayed beyond the end of 2020. The move seems to be part of a diversification of manufacturing as the US-China trade conflict rumbles on.
6 May 2020: Analyst says some AirPods are still going to ship
Apple analyst Jon Prosser suggests that some AirPods are being readied for shipping, but it's unclear if this is true or not. Prosser's proclamations need to be taken loosely, since we've not heard this from elsewhere.
25 April 2020: AirPods 3 set for early 2021
Noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggests that new AirPods are likely to be delayed until 2021 as a result of production changes. He also says that a second-generation of the AirPods Pro 2 won't be with us until early 2022, though we'd definitely take that with a pinch of salt.
20 April 2020: Could Apple release AirPods 3 in the coming weeks?
Jon Prosser believed the AirPods 3 launch could happen in the next month alongside the MacBook Pro 14-inch.
12 February 2020: New AirPods in early 2020?
A Digitimes report suggests that some AirPods will be made in Taiwan instead of China (Update: check out the Vietnam story above) and that there will be a new model in early 2020.