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(Pocket-lint) - Apple's AirPods have been highly successful since they first arrived five 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

Apple has now launched the third generation of the standard AirPods though, officially called AirPods (3rd Generation).

Here is everything you need to know about the update of the main AirPods. For all the rumours surrounding the AirPods Pro 2 - due out in 2022, you can read our separate feature.

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Release date and price

  • Pre-order 18 October 2021
  • Available 26 October 2021
  • $179

Apple announced the third generation of the standard AirPods at its 'Unleashed' event on 18 October 2021. This is two-and-a-half years after the second generation model - the AirPods with Wireless Charging Case or AirPods (2nd Generation) - that launched in March 2019.

The Apple AirPods (3rd Gen) are available to pre-order immediately and will hit stores on 26 October. They sit in between the second-generation AirPods -  which will continue to be sold - and the AirPods Pro. The AirPods Max continue to sit at the top if the AirPods portfolio. 

In terms of price, the AirPods (third-generation) cost $179 in the US. 

AppleApple AirPods 3 release date, specs, features and price photo 1

AirPods 3 design

  • Shorter design like AirPods Pro
  • White colour option only
  • IPX4 rated 

The third generation of the standard AirPods adopt a slightly shorter design like the AirPods Pro, sitting in between the AirPods 2 and the AirPods Pro in terms of look. The ear tips are similar to the original and second-generation standard model, while the stems are similar to the AirPods Pro.

That means you don't get the silicone tips - which also allow for active noise cancellation - but with the second generation identical to the first generation, it's the biggest design update since AirPods launched in 2016.

There is a force sensor on the bottom of the AirPods (3rd Gen) stems, allowing for more control over music and phone calls and there is water and sweat resistance on the standard AirPods this time round too, again borrowing from the AirPods Pro. The IPX4 rating applies to the headphones themselves, as well as the charging case.

Colour options are white only, as has been the case since the AirPods first arrived in 2016. There have long been rumours of more colours joining the line up, like black ones, but alas, it wasn't to be this time round. 

AirPods 3 audio hardware

  • Spatial Audio
  • Adaptive EQ
  • Custom driver

A number of hardware upgrades are on board the third generation model, including support for Apple's Spatial Audio technology, which is designed to create a three-dimensional theatre-like experience, placing sound virtually anywhere in space, and there is Dolby Atmos support too.

There's Adaptive EQ as well, which is said to tune sound in real time, according to how the AirPods fit in a user's ear. Inward-facing microphones monitor for sound, while Adaptive EQ uses computational audio to tune low and mid-frequencies, to account for what might be lost due to variances in fit.

An acousitc mesh covers the microphone to help reduce wind noise, while a custom driver and high dynamic range amplifier are claimed to offer powerful bass with "crisp, clean frequencies".

AirPods (3rd Gen) features

  • H1 chip
  • Better battery life
  • MagSafe compatible wireless charging case 

The H1 chip is on board, enabling the same instant pairing as the AirPods family all offer with iOS devices, and the AirPods (3rd generation) are also compatible with the Find My network too.

There is also a promise of longer battery life and more talk time. The AirPods (3rd Gen) have six hours of listening time, with 30 hours in total if you include the extra charges from the wireless charging case. Five minutes of charging will give you one hour of listening time too.

You also get features like the Notication Announcements and Call Announcements, which you get on the AirPods (2nd Gen) and AirPods Pro. Additionally, there are sensors to detect when the AirPods (3rd Gen) are taken out of your ear, and you can say "Hey Siri" to make calls or hands-free requests.

Like the model they succeed, the third generation AirPods come with a wireless charging case but there's no kind of noise-cancelling - as we briefly mentioned, instead leaving that to the AirPods Pro. The wireless charging case is compatible with MagSafe this time round though.

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Apple AirPods 3 rumours: What happened?

Here are all the details in chronological order for the new AirPods before they were officially revealed.

18 October 2021: Apple AirPods 3, MacBook Pros and Mac mini expected to launch at 'Unleashed' event

Dylankt claimed the Apple Airpods 3 will launch alongside the new MacBook Pros on 18 October. 

13 October 2021: Apple working on AirPods that know when you're slouching

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Apple is working on higher-tech pair of AirPods that'll ingrain health features into the headphones that can determine when your posture is askew, tell you if you have a fever, and act as a medically certified hearing aid cleared by government agencies. 

12 October 2021: Apple sends invites to ‘Unleashed' media event for 18 October

Apple sent out invites to an event on 18 October. New MacBook Pros are expected, but it is possible the third generation AirPods will also appear.

16 September 2021: AirPods 3 production purportedly already underway

Digitimes reported that Apple has started to receive finalised shipments of the AirPods 3, despite the fact that they weren't revealed during Apple's 14 September event. 

14 September 2021: Apple held its California Streaming event, but no AirPods

Apple held its California Streaming event on 14 September, announcing the iPhone 13 series, iPad mini 6 and Apple Watch Series 7. No AirPods were revealed though.

7 September 2021: Apple confirms 14 September date for iPhone launch event

Apple confirmed its next special event will be held on 14 September. The iPhone 13 and Apple Watch Series 7 are expected, though there is some talk the AirPods 3 may also appear.

16 August 2021: Apple Watch Series 7 to bring Time to Run feature, M1X MacBook Pro coming soon

Mark Gurman of Bloomberg claims the entry-level AirPods will offer the biggest design update since they launched in 2016, including shorter stems and a new in-ear shape.

21 July 2021: Apple might start making AirPods 3 soon, iPhone SE 5G likely coming too

Souces talking to Nikkei claimed Apple is starting production of the AirPods 3 from August 2021.

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.

LeaksAppleProApple AirPods 3 specs news and rumours What will we see from the third-generation AirPods photo 3

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. 

52AudioApple AirPods 3 specs news and rumours What will we see from the third-generation AirPods photo 2

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.  

Writing by Britta O'Boyle. Originally published on 6 May 2020.