You could hardly move for AirPods updates in 2019. We got a simple refresh in March - improving connection speed and talk time, adding Hey Siri support and giving the option of wireless charging - before the AirPods Pro hit the scene in October and brought a new design, improved audio and active noise cancellation.
We're still recovering from all this earbud-related excitement, but the march of progress continues unabated. What has Apple got in store for us next? Will the AirPods be discontinued, or will they remain alongside the Pro models in 2020?
In this article we round up the latest rumours about AirPods launches in 2020: covering the release date, price, tech specs, design changes and new features of the next AirPods models.
We expect new AirPods to launch in autumn 2020.
Here's the release schedule so far:
- December 2016: AirPods (2016)
- March 2019: AirPods (early-2019, aka 'AirPods 2')
- October 2019: AirPods Pro
It's tough to draw too many conclusions from that - a big gap and then a flurry of releases; the sample size is too small to extrapolate a trend - but we definitely expect Apple to keep the AirPods and AirPods Pro as two separate lines.
It's possible that the third edition of the vanilla AirPods will appear in spring 2020 but this seems unlikely so soon after the excitement around the Pro models. We think the most logical approach is for Apple to wait until the autumn of 2020 and then update the standard and Pro AirPods models at the same time.
The question here is whether Apple will take the plunge and significantly change the design of the standard AirPods. Our sense is that it won't; we've already got an improved design on the AirPods Pro, but Apple won't want to take away the exclusivity that makes those more expensive devices worth the extra money.
So we're more likely to see small incremental changes on the baseline model. It would be nice to get a second colour option, for one thing (Space Grey is most likely, with Product Red a strong second choice), although again this will only happen if Apple does the standard and Pro AirPods at the same time and can therefore offer this for both. It would be strange and slightly annoying for Pro owners if they were missing out on something that was offered with the bog-standard model.
As for the AirPods Pro, they've had their updated design for only one generation and it's therefore unlikely that this will see major change. We're big fans of this design, incidentally, although we have a few reservations about the charging case: it's harder to get the Pros out than was the case with the previous models, and the hinge feels less robust. (The hinge sits along the longer edge, because the Pro models are shorter and wider than before.) Perhaps Apple could tweak the case design in lieu of major changes to the earbuds themselves.
Let's split this into two sections: the features we expect to drop down from the Pro range to the basic AirPods, and the entirely new (or at least new to Apple) features we expect to appear in the Pro range.
The Pros have only been available since October 2019; it would be a surprise for Apple to allow many of their exclusive features to appear on the baseline AirPods only a year later, which is when we expect the next launch. Active noise cancellation (ANC), for example, is virtually the Pros' signature feature, and the chances of that appearing on standard AirPods is almost non-existent - aside from the fact that it would require a redesign that we don't expect either. The same applies to the Transparency mode which comes hand in hand with ANC.
Improved water resistance, however, could be ready for the mainstream. The Pros are rated IPX4, which Apple glosses as "water and sweat resistant, but not waterproof or sweatproof"; the early-2019 AirPods are not claimed to be water-resistant at all. That could see an improvement in 2020.
What entirely new features could Apple contemplate for the Pros? Well, while we're still on the subject of water resistance, that IPX4 rating leaves a fair bit of room for improvement.
The RHA TrueConnect and Creative Outlier Air headphones, which are the top two choices in our roundup of the best wireless earbuds, are both rated IPX5; the JBL UA True Wireless Flash buds are rated as a 'stormproof' IPX7.
Optical heart rate sensors have always struck us as unnecessary and uncomfortable, but some sporty users swear by them and they are offered by some rival earbuds. This is a long shot but not beyond the realms of possibility - especially if Apple can deliver them in a sleek package.
Here's the pricing for the current range, correct as of December 2019:
- AirPods (early-2019, charging case): £159/$159
- AirPods (early-2019, wireless case): £199/$199
- AirPods Pro: £249/$249
We expect Apple to bring in the next generation of AirPods at roughly the same price point.
AirPods pricing has been a little controversial, although (as is sometimes the case with Apple products) this may not have been entirely fair; the basic AirPods are actually pretty reasonable by the standards of True Wireless earbuds, and while the Pro models are at the upper end of that market, they are of sufficiently good quality to justify this. Nevertheless, Apple will know that a price tag approaching £300/$300 for the second-gen Pros, and anything above £200/$200 for the next standard AirPods, is likely to provoke a backlash.
And on that note, it's time to wrap up: that's all the AirPods rumours fit to print. If you'd like to read about the current range, check out our AirPods 2 review and AirPods Pro review, and catch up on the best AirPods deals.