Sources (and the company's own patent activity) strongly indicate that Apple is planning to launch its own brand of over-the-ear headphones, to join the in-ear AirPods. In this article we look at clues, leaks and rumours related to the so-called StudioPods, including the expected price, release date and technical details of the new headgear. We've also got some brilliant-looking concept illustrations.
The Apple over-ear headphones rumour first came from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (now at TF International Securities) 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."
The "people familiar with the product's development" cited in the first report claimed that 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." The second report stated that the release date had indeed been pushed back to 2019... and the passage of time itself later confirmed this was correct.
More recently, a January 2019 Bloomberg report says the Apple over-ear headphones could arrive in the first half of 2019. We did not see a launch at the 25 March event, though it's possible a launch could still be imminent, perhaps at WWDC - coming in June, that would just qualify for the first half of the year.
What will Apple's headphones be called?
We don't know what these new over-ear headphones will be called. Apple calls the in-ear headphones AirPod, so the headphones could have the prefix Air, although it is just as likely that they will use the Pod name, like the EarPods, AirPods, HomePod, and originally the iPod.
We like the names StudioPods, SoundPods, and AudioPods.
For a very approximate idea of what the StudioPods could look like, take a look at this illustration from an Apple patent:
Bear in mind, as ever, that patent illustrations are not required to properly look like the finished product, only to illustrate the elements being claimed for protection. But it gives an idea of where Apple's thinking is headed.
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:
Meanwhile, someone at The Apple Post has come up with this possible design.
Apple is clearly thinking about 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 100 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 earcups."
The following features seem likely:
- Noise-cancelling capabilities
- Wireless pairing functionality like the AirPods
- Wireless charging
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.
- 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.
The Studio 3s come in grey, rose, black, white, blue and red. They cost £299.95 or $349. (You can buy them here).
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 that includes EarPods, AirPods, HomePod and the iPod.
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 sales of Apple-owned Beats headphones, Bloomberg doesn't think that Apple will stop producing Beats 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," suggests Bloomberg.
Kuo has claimed that Apple's new over-ear headphones will cost more than AirPods.
Bloomberg also expects that the headphones will target the high-end of the market, as is the case with the £319/$349 HomePod speaker. That title notes that the HomePod is priced higher than its competition (in most cases) and they expect that the new headphones will be priced in a similarly high bracket, especially because the new headphones are likely to be costly to produce - as is the case with the AirPods and the HomePod. Apparently, the HomePod costs about £154/$216 to produce.
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).