Looks Like We May See Redesigned AirPods and Smaller AirPods Pro in 2021

Looks Like We May See Redesigned AirPods and Smaller AirPods Pro in 2021
Photo: Adam Clark Estes/Gizmodo
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While many of us mocked AirPods when they first came out, Apple’s wireless earbuds have turned out to be a popular product for the company and actually really solid wireless earbuds for most people. It appears Apple’s keen on continuing to capitalise on that popularity, with Bloomberg reporting that the company is currently working on third-generation AirPods and second-generation AirPods Pro.

According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, a reliable Apple leaker, the third-gen AirPods would copy some design features of the current AirPods Pro. Namely, it’d have a shorter stem and swappable ear tips. Apple is also supposedly working on improving battery life. That said, Bloomberg cites unnamed Apple sources as saying more advanced features, like noise-cancelling, will not make their way down to the entry-level AirPods.

Meanwhile, Apple is purportedly working on eliminating the stem altogether from the AirPods Pro. Instead, Bloomberg says a design currently being tested has a “more rounded shape that fills more of a user’s ear” and that it resembles designs in recent Samsung, Amazon, and Google earbuds. (Apple beans!?!? Probably not but one can dream.) However, Gurman also notes that a more compact, stemless AirPods Pro might not end up happening at all, as Apple is struggling to fit all the components for noise-cancellation, wireless antennas, and microphones into a smaller form factor. Both the third-gen AirPods and second-gen AirPods Pro might also have “new wireless chips.” Perhaps a hint at the U1 ultra-wideband chip that was added to the Apple Watch Series 6 and the iPhone 11?

In any case, it would appear Apple is taking a closer look at its audio offerings. Gurman also notes that Apple is potentially mulling yet another HomePod that fits somewhere in between the newly announced $149 HomePod Mini and the regular HomePod. That would be interesting, to say the least, as Apple announced some new home theatre software updates for the OG HomePod, including Dolby Atmos support via the Apple TV, as well as 5.1 and 7.1 channel audio. It’s not entirely clear how a mid-range HomePod would be different enough from either the Mini and the original HomePod to be worth it.

As for the rumoured AirPods Studio, which despite the name are actually meant to be high-end over-ear headphones, Bloomberg didn’t have much else to report other than it’s still supposedly happening. Despite speculation that we might see them at the iPhone 12 event earlier this month, the headphones were a no-show. Prolific-but-not-always-right Apple leaker Jon Prosser claimed earlier this month that the Studio headphones hit a snag in manufacturing — something that Gurman’s report seems to corroborate.

Apparently, Apple’s had some production issues with the headband, which was “too tight in some testing.” Bloomberg notes that this means the final product might end up without the modular headband and touchpad panels that were initially rumoured but could still feature interchangeable ear pads. In any case, earlier this month Apple did purge its store of every headphone that wasn’t either an AirPod or part of its Beats lineup — a possible indication that something is on the way. There’s a good chance the delayed Studios might make their debut in November, when Apple is expected to announce its first ARM-powered computers.

As for when we can expect the new AirPods, the third-generation AirPods are rumoured to drop during “the first half of next year.” Whether that’s also the timeline for the new AirPods Pro is unclear, especially if it’s facing issues in development. Either way, it looks like wearable gadgets, including headphones, are doing gangbusters for Apple’s bottom line. Bloomberg notes that the Wearables, Home, and Accessories division — which includes AirPods — reported $US6.5 ($9) billion in revenue during the last quarter, a 70% increase from two years ago.