- Apple 'StudioPods' over-ear headphones tipped to launch soon
- Company has patented "headphones including an adjustable band"...
- ...as well as "Noise and Wind Cancellation" technology
- Features likely to include wireless pairing/charging and Hey Siri
- Apple over ear headphones could use touch gestures rather than buttons
- StudioPods are likely to cost more than AirPods
Sources (and the company's own patent activity) strongly indicate that Apple is planning to launch its own brand of over-ear headphones, to join the popular in-ear AirPods. In this article we look at clues, leaks and rumours related to the so-called StudioPods, including their expected price, release date and technical details. We've also got some brilliant-looking concept illustrations.
Release date: When will Apple launch the StudioPods?
The Apple over-ear headphones rumour first came from the analyst Ming-Chi Kuo way back in February 2018. At the time he issued a research note saying: "Apple to have own-brand, high-end over-ear headphones with all-new design; to be as convenient as AirPods with better sound quality; shipments to begin 4Q18F at earliest."
If you're thinking he was way off - it's 2020 now and nothing has been announced - then hold your horses for a moment. Apple's interest in developing a set of over-ears was backed up by Bloomberg sources in March 2018 and later in July 2018. Just because we haven't seen them yet doesn't mean they're not on Apple's product roadmap.
The "people familiar with the product's development" cited in the first report claimed Apple "plans to launch the headphones as early as the end of this year , but has faced development challenges that might push back the release", and the second report pushed back the release date to 2019. Then a January 2019 report said the headphones could arrive in the first half of 2019.
Turns out all of these predictions were optimistic, and if the StudioPods are coming, the first likely release window is the spring event, most likely in March 2020.
What will Apple's over-ear headphones be called?
Nothing official has been announced, so we don't know - but the term 'StudioPods' seems to be gaining traction in the media. Funnily enough, it's the term we started using back in February 2018 when we first started reporting on the rumours, and the name has gained momentum with many reports now using it. Websites have a habit of reporting on each other's rumours, and these things can run out of control.
Apple calls its in-ear headphones AirPods, of course, which is a way of drawing attention to the lack of wires. We expect a similar feature in the over-ear models, so the prefix Air could reappear - AirCans, AirBeats or even OverAirs? But for us the company is more likely to seek consistency by re-using the Pod suffix that unites so many of its music products: the EarPods, AirPods, HomePod and iPod.
We like the names StudioPods, SoundPods, and AudioPods.
Kuo has claimed that Apple's new over-ear headphones will cost more than AirPods. (Note that his prediction was made before the launch of the AirPods Pro, so we're looking at a lower bound of £159/$159 rather than £249/$249.
Bloomberg also expects that the headphones will target the high-end of the market, as is the case with the HomePod speaker (which, incidentally, saw its price drop due to flagging sales).
The new over-ear headphones are likely to rival headsets from the likes of Bose as well as Apple's own Beats by Dre brand (which Apple bought, along with Beats Radio, for $3bn in 2014).
Design: What will the StudioPods look like?
For a very approximate idea of what the StudioPods could look like, take a look at these illustration from an Apple patent:
Bear in mind, as ever, that patent illustrations are not required to look much like the finished product, only to illustrate the elements being claimed for protection. But it gives a rough idea of where Apple's thinking is headed.
The above patent, discovered by Patently Apple, relates to noise and wind cancellation and was granted to Apple in November 2018. More on that below.
We mocked up our own StudioPod design based on a pair of Beats headphones. However, there are designers out there with much better illustration and Photoshop skills than us, and Curved.de has posted some great concept illustrations:
And here's a look at that concept in a video:
Meanwhile, someone at The Apple Post has come up with this possible design.
Apple is clearly thinking about over-ear headphones. A January 2019 patent called simply 'Headphones' describes "A pair of headphones including an adjustable headphone band", which couldn't be more different from the AirPods.
The patent also mentions noise cancellation, at least briefly:
"In some embodiments, headphones can also include a noise cancellation feature. The noise cancellation feature can be substantially improved if a listener's ears are completely covered by the ear cups."
Another patent published in January 2020 outlines a way for users to control music playback without buttons. Most over ear headphones require users to locate and press buttons on the cups, but Apple describes a means by which users could control the music playback using gestures.
Apple addresses a couple of issues associated with gesture control in the patent. If you can't see the headphones because they are on your ear you need to use touch to locate the right area to touch. That problem coupled with the fact that people don't always wear headphones in exactly the same way - you might have them over the top of your head, or you might have the band around your neck - means that it is a challenge for the headphones to interpret the gesture correctly.
Apple's solution is a number of sensors inside the headphone cup that can identify your ear and determine the orientation of the headphones from it. This means that when you use a gesture to control the music the gesture will be interpreted correctly.
The research work for this patent was done a few years ago - AppleInsider points out that one of the inventors listed on the patent application left Apple in 2017 and now works at Facebook Reality Labs.
Apple has also been granted a patent for "Noise and Wind Cancellation" as applied to over-ear headphones.
There are in fact two noise and wind cancellation patents that were published by the US Patent and Trademark Office back in November 2018, but one of them was originally filed in 2017, according to a Patently Apple report.
Apple's invention performs spectral mixing of signals from a microphone located inside the ear cup (or ear bud, or phone) that is directed towards the ear canal, with the signals from at least one microphone located on the outside of the ear cup's housing to generate a mixed signal.
The following features are likely:
- Noise cancelling
- Noise isolation
- Wireless pairing functionality like the AirPods
- Optional wired connection when superior audio quality is required
- Wireless charging
- Gesture control (as described by the patent above)
- H1 chip, like the 2019 AirPods and PowerBeats Pro, to power Hey Siri.
Beyond that, we've got a few clues about the direction Apple is likely to take. According to Kuo, for example, Apple will be working with Primax and SZS on the project.
Taipei-based Primax is known for making camera modules for mobile devices, including the iPhone, but also makes wireless speaker components. And Kuo says that SZS "is likely to use MIM [Metal Injection Molding] technology advantages as leverage to become the exclusive or main MIM part supplier".
Looking at Beats' range of wireless over-ear headphones could give an insight as to what to expect from Apple's over-ear Pods. For example, the Beats Studio 3 Wireless feature Pure Adaptive Noise Cancelling and the Apple W1 chip, while the PowerBeats Pro offers Hey Siri thanks to the inclusion of the H1 chip.
- Responsive noise blocking pinpoints and blocks external sounds.
- The Beats Studio 3 Wireless responds automatically to individual fit and music playback.
- Soft cushions offer "advanced venting and signature ergonomic pivoting for a customised, flexible fit".
- Real-time audio calibration constantly optimises sound output to ensure clarity, range, emotion and a premium listening experience.
Won't StudioPods cannibalise Beats sales?
According to Ming-Chi Kuo's February 2018 report, the new "high-end over-ear headphones" will make Apple's "acoustic accessory lineup more complete". Apple's decision to launch more headphones, despite owning Beats, will build on its 'Pod lineup, which includes EarPods, AirPods, iPods and the HomePod.
In its March 2018 report, Bloomberg noted that the addition to Apple's wearables and accessories segment - a category that includes AirPods, Beats headphones, the Apple Watch, Apple TV and iPad accessories - makes sense as during their February 2018 financial results call the company revealed that they saw a surge of 70 percent in wearable product sales in 2017.
Incidentally, while the new Apple headphones could cannibalise Beats sales, Bloomberg doesn't think that Apple will stop producing that brand of headphones. "Given the strength of the Beats headphone name, the company will likely keep that brand while developing a different new one for the new headphones," the site suggests.