Apple launched its AirPods wireless earbuds in September 2016 alongside the iPhone 7. They made a big splash at the time - "sound quality is excellent, the auto play/pause function is great, the accuracy of the Siri controls is a pleasant surprise and call quality is impressive," said our reviewer - but almost two years later, we're keen to see what Apple's got as a follow-up.

In this article we look at the leaks and rumours related to the AirPods 2: their release date, design, tech specs, price and new features. The latest news is that images of a new AirPods wireless charging case have been spotted in iOS 12 beta 5.

For alternatives that are available right now, see our guide to the best wireless earbuds.

Release date

The first AirPods launch took place in September 2016. Plenty of Apple watchers expected new versions the following autumn, but it's something of a myth that the company updates its products on a dependable yearly basis; that only really applies to the iPhone now, with even the iPad falling into a less predictable pattern.

What about the two-year anniversary? Could we get new 'Pods at the 2018 iPhone announcement?

Apple could yet surprise us, but the analysts currently think it's not going to happen - or if it is, it will be only a very minor update ahead of a second and more major redesign in 2019. A June 2018 Bloomberg report forecast that new AirPods won't arrive at all until 2019, and Barclays analysts agree.

Throughout the year Apple runs various Apple events, but it usually announces something in the spring. (In March 2018 Apple held a specifically education-focused event to launch the new iPad.) The current analyst consensus leads us to believe that spring 2019 - probably March - is the most likely time for the AirPods 2 launch.

Whenever they launch, it's thought that the AirPods 2 are likely to launch in conjunction with Apple's rumoured StudioPods over-ear headphones.

AirPods 2 release date, price & specs rumours: New features

New features

Features are the main factor dividing minor iterative upgrades from the real blockbuster events. Has Apple got an appealing new flagship feature to dazzle us with?

Hey Siri!

You activate Siri on the AirPods by tapping them, but the new model will allow the hands-free Hey Siri voice activation currently available on iPhone, iPad and HomePod, according to Bloomberg's sources.

Noise cancellation

The Barclays report mentioned above (predicting a delay until 2019 for the AirPods 2 launch) names noise cancellation as the flagship feature for the new headphones. This will be achieved via changes to the physical design, rather than active noise cancellation.

Wireless charging

It's been confirmed that Apple's upcoming AirPower wireless charging pad will work with a new case for the AirPods.

Images of the wireless charging case have been spotted in iOS 12 beta 5, and it has an indicator light on the back to show when it's low on power, charging and so on. Here's a still from a 9to5Mac video of the case:

AirPods 2 release date, price & specs: New wireless charging case

If you look closely you can see that the case on the left has a green light, indicating that it's charging, while the one on the right has an orange light to indicate low power.

Note, however, that this case is likely to be released in the near term with compatibility for existing AirPods, and could arrive long before the AirPods 2 - or before the more significantly redesigned AirPods expected in 2019.

Water resistance

Bloomberg also predicts that the new AirPods will be water-resistant. Not waterproof - "they likely won't be designed to be submerged in water" - but fine in the rain.

So you won't be able to take them swimming, for example.

Health

These future AirPods may include biometric sensors for heart-rate, according to the June 2018 Bloomberg report.

Tech specs

We don't know much about the AirPods 2 specs yet, although Bloomberg predicts the inclusion of an upgraded wireless chip - probably the W2, debuted with the Apple Watch Series 3. If true, this would offer substantial improvements: Apple claims the W2 offers 85 percent faster Wi-Fi and 50 percent more power-efficient Wi-Fi and Bluetooth than the W1, which appeared in the first AirPods.

Price

As of August 2018, the AirPods cost £159/$159. The most likely outcome is that the AirPods 2 will come in at the same or a similar price.

However, according to the Bloomberg report from June 2018, the 2019 models could see a price bump if there's a more significant design revamp alongside the water resistance.

AirPods 2 release date, price & specs rumours: Price