When will Apple launch its own headphones?

Rumours about new Apple headphones have been hotting up recently. Here, we round up all of the new Apple headphone speculation, including rumours about Lightning EarPods and new Apple Beats headphones.

Last updated to include new information regarding the connectivity of the new headphones and a new Bluetooth adaptor concept that could bridge the gap between wired and wireless headphones

iPhone 7 headphone rumours

There's still probably seven months to go before its launch, but the most persistent rumour about the iPhone 7 so far is that it will ditch the traditional headphone jack. (Read our iPhone 7 preview.)

This makes a lot of sense, following the announcement in 2014 that future iOS devices will support Lightning-connected headphones: after all, why make space for two ports when one would be enough? And this could enable Apple to make the iPhone 7 thinner than any previous Apple smartphone. But it does leave headphone makers with the option of making Apple-specific Lightning models or going wireless.

With control over the connection technology, could Apple join the competition and release its own set of Lightning headphones under the Beats brand? That's what we're going to consider today.

Read next: Best Bluetooth wireless headphones | Best wired headphones

New Apple headphones release date

Back in 2014, Apple revealed at its WWDC event that headphone makers could now manufacture headphones that connect to iOS devices via the Lightning port. This announcement arrived just weeks after Apple confirmed that it had acquired Beats Audio, the company behind the popular Beats headphones. See: Why did Apple buy Beats?

Understandably, this led to speculation that suggests that the first headphones Beats unveils under Apple's management will use the Lightning port rather than the 3.5mm audio jack.

It's believed that the Beats acquisition is mostly focused on Beats Music - the company's music streaming service. But it would make sense for Beats to be among the first companies to launch Lightning-compatible headphones now that it's owned by Apple.

The first Lightning-connecting headphones are out now, although the choice remains distinctly limited: we are aware of just two at the time of writing.

iPhone 7 headphone rumours: Lightning or wireless?

While everyone assumed that Apple would bundle a pair of wireless EarPods with the iPhone 7, that may not be the case. In a Barclays investors note obtained by Business Insider, analysts Blayne Curtis and Christopher Hemmelgarn claim that Apple will ship the iPhone 7 with Lightning-enabled EarPods, instead of completely wireless headphones. The note claims that Apple hasn't yet purchased the rights to Cirrus' noise-cancelling technology that is needed, although the company is said to still be considering going wireless with the iPhone 7s headphones. 

We still believe there is potential for Apple to add ANC in the iPhone 7s but believe Apple is including just the digital headphone in the iPhone 7 this year," the investors said in the note.

While this is just a rumour, we believe this is the route that Apple would follow if it removed the 3.5mm jack - why pay more to manufacture wireless headphones when Lightning-enabled ones would do the same job?

In August 2016, Forbes then reported that Apple has been developing its own Bluetooth radio chip for wireless headphones, presumably in an attempt to improve battery life and bring the potential product up to Apple's high standards. 

The low-power chip is supposedly the work of a company Apple acquired in 2013 called Passif Semiconductor. It was reported that Apple had actually planned to release wireless headphones in 2015 but was not satisfied with performance. We'll have to wait and see if such a product materialises with the forthcoming iPhone 7. If it does, it'll then be a matter of whether it's included in the box or as an additional premium accessory that you'll have to fork out for.

What's the point of Lightning headphones?

The Lightning headphone module was first unveiled during a WWDC session for developers, titled 'Designing Accessories for iOS and OS X.'

During that session, Apple's manager of platform accessories, Robert Walsh, explained that there are several advantages of using the Lightning connector rather than the 3.5mm audio jack.

It offers richer controls for volume and playback, more bandwidth and other benefits. "If your headphones support, for example, noise cancellation, you can offer an app on your device that communicates with your headphones that controls how it operates," Walsh told developers.

They'll be capable of receiving lossless stereo 48kHz audio output from Apple devices, which ties in with the rumours that suggest Apple may be planning to offer lossless music downloads through iTunes in iTunes 12.

The Lightning module will also be able to provide power to your headphones, or vice versa.

See also: Headphone makers will be wary of Apple's Lightning audio pitch

One other thing that could happen as a result of these Lightning headphones is future iPhones could be thinner, as we mentioned earlier. The 3.5mm audio jack is one of the thickest parts of the iPhone, so without it, Apple could alter the design. Alternatively, the lack of an audio jack could leave space for a bigger battery, helping lengthen the battery life of future iPhones.

iPhone 7 headphone rumours: Bluetooth adaptor concept images

Apple ditching the headphone jack could be a massive headache for users, especially those with expensive wired headphones. While we assume Apple will offer some kind of adaptor when the iPhone 7 launches, we're pretty impressed by a concept designed by Industrial design student Sean Nelson. The idea is to bridge the 3.5mm gap with a small Bluetooth headphone 'puck' which looks similar to the Apple Watch charger. The idea is that the user would plug the wired headphones into the puck which would the communicate with your iPhone via Bluetooth.

Photo: Sean Nelson

The idea is simple but effective, and looks like something that Apple would manufacture and release. Writing on his blog, Nelson said: “Our end-goal shouldn’t be pushing music into a metal hole until the end of time, so focusing on a Lightning converter seemed silly,”. “What made sense to me was instead turning standard headphones into Bluetooth headphones, and thus, this little design exercise was born.” he continued.

We'll update this article with more information as it comes in, so check back regularly for updates.