- New 'anti-slip' design featuring new material
- Water resistance
- Noise cancellation
- Other audio improvements
- Price around £229/$229
Apple announced an updated version of the AirPods in March 2019. These new AirPods gained wireless charging, 'Hey Siri' and improved connection speeds and talk time, but as our reviewer noted, "a lack of improvements in the audio department will leave audiophiles wanting more". The official branding (AirPods, rather than AirPods 2) could even be taken as an admission that this is not a full upgrade.
We're therefore excited to see what Apple's got in store for the next AirPods. Rumours suggest, in fact, that the company was working on the March 2019 AirPods and a more adventurous 'AirPods 3' update at the same time, and is likely to make another announcement before the end of 2019. But with no announcement at the September event that is looking less likely.
In this article we look at leaks and rumours related to the AirPods 3: their release date, design, specs, price and new features. If you'd rather not wait (and don't want to buy the current AirPods), see our guide to the best wireless earbuds for high-quality alternatives.
Release date: When will AirPods 3 come out?
Rumours suggest that two generations of AirPods were in the works simultaneously, and that the March 2019 update will be rapidly followed by more extensive updates to Apple's headphones. Numerous reports predict this will happen before the end of 2019.
However, we could be looking at early 2020 given that there was no AirPods 3 news at the iPhone 11 event on 10 September.
A research note from the analyst firm Wedbush released on 9 July says the AirPods will launch by the end of the year (and bring an enhanced design, waterproofing features and a higher price).
A report from DigiTimes in late April had previously predicted the same thing, citing industry sources. And the usually reliable OnLeaks, working from an "unconfirmed source", also forecast back in February that the 'real' AirPods 2 launch would happen later this year - in this case specifying the autumn of 2019. If that's true, the new headphones could launch alongside the 2019 iPhone.
Some #AirPods2 details I got from a new and yet unconfirmed but seemingly reliable source. Thus, I can't vouch these at 100%...— Steve H.McFly (@OnLeaks) February 12, 2019
- New wireless charging #AirPods Case to be launched soon BUT shipped with current AirPods
- Brand new AirPods + new color(s) likely unveiled this fall pic.twitter.com/eNYom3Xys6
Sadly, there remain pundits who think 2020 is the year of the next AirPods launch, and indeed that was the consensus view until DigiTimes' report emerged. But whenever they launch, it's thought that the AirPods 3 could appear alongside Apple's rumoured StudioPods over-ear headphones.
It's pretty widely accepted that the new AirPods will have a new look. The Wedbush report cited above points to design enhancements in the next-generation model, although doesn't specify what that will involve.
One possibility is an 'anti-slip' coating similar to the glass used on the Google Pixel phone; some users have found that the first- and second-gen AirPods are prone to falling out of their ears (although personally we have found this is rarely a problem). It's also been suggested that a black colour option will be available alongside the white.
Features: What's new with the AirPods 3?
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?
AirPods could become much more than a means of listening to your music and making phone calls. Analysts at Gartner have predicted that "ear-worn devices", such as the AirPods, could replace smartwatches as the most popular form of wearable technology.
Gartner believes that in the future, earbuds or headphones will use voice recognition to provide answers to questions and hands-free directions. Gartner says these devices "will take over many tasks that users solve with the help of their smartphones today".
In fact, AirPods can do a fair bit of this already, having gained Hey Siri support in the March 2019 update, but could be taken much further down the road of personal assistance - expanding their range of voice-activated commands, for example, which is currently comparatively limited.
Back in February 2019 (and therefore before the March update), MySmartPrice's source predicted that the new earbuds would offer improved audio quality and better bass. In the event, improvements to the sound were one of the noteworthy omissions in the second-gen update, but this rumour could come true in the third.
Will AirPods 3 offer noise cancellation?
Yes, we think so. A Barclays report (via 9to5Mac, who observe that the analysts "have a mixed track record of accuracy") has named 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.
This prediction was backed up by the April 2019 DigiTimes report mentioned above, which says Apple will "raise the bar by adding new features to AirPods 3, including the noise cancellation function".
The report acknowledges that including this technology will bring issues, such as higher power consumption and complex assembly. But Apple has the logistical and design nous to pull it off.
Future AirPods may include biometric sensors for measuring heart rate, according to a June 2018 Bloomberg report. This subject appears to be much in Apple's thoughts, after it rolled out enhanced heart monitoring in the Apple Watch Series 4.
A report from Digitimes in January 2019 backed up the idea that health-monitoring features will appear in the AirPods 3, and it has emerged that in November 2018 (via Patently Apple) the company even updated the AirPods trademark to include the following:
"General wellness instruments, namely, health, fitness, exercise, and wellness sensors, monitors, speakers and displays for measuring, displaying, tracking, reporting, monitoring, storing, and transmitting biometric data, heart rate, body movement, and calories burned."
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. (We have an article about whether Apple AirPods are waterproof, if you'd like to read more about this subject.)
This prediction was backed up in the July 2019 Wedbush report cited above.
This is a new iPhone feature, rather than an AirPods one, but it could change you use and experience your AirPods. Macotakara thinks the iPhone 11 will offer dual Bluetooth and let you paid with two sets of AirPods at once - ideal for friends and couples who'd like to listen to the same music at the same time without being restricted to a single earbud each.
We don't know much about the AirPods 3 specs yet, although we strongly expect updates to the audio drivers and it's possible Apple will look again at the processor - having upgraded from W1 to H1 in the March update.
Will Apple improve the AirPods battery life?
AirPods battery life is a hot topic. On the one hand, we've heard broadly favourable reports from AirPods owners (particularly since the H1 improved talk time) and expanding the battery could mean making the AirPods themselves bulkier. But it's widely believed - by Digital Trends, among others - that a five-hour battery life is now considered on the low side, and that Qualcomm's chip improvements have set the bar much higher.
Price: How much will the AirPods 3 cost?
- AirPods 3 price: around £229/$229
The second-gen AirPods, like the originals before them, start at £159/$159, but also offer the option of spending £199/$199 for a pair with a wireless charging case. If they get the major redesign that we're anticipating, the AirPods 3 are likely to see a bump up from that, and this is backed up by the Bloomberg report from June 2018 and others.
Wedbush analyst Dan Ives predicted in July 2019 that a price rise was coming, but didn't specify further; when quizzed by The Sun, however, Ives offered: "We believe $229 is the sweet spot price point for the next AirPods version."