AirPods 3 could replace your Apple Watch with this feature

AirPods 3
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Apple’s AirPods 3 (opens in new tab) could use an embedded light sensor to monitor your health, making them a potential alternative to the company's own Apple Watch (opens in new tab).

Industry sources apparently told DigiTimes (opens in new tab) that ambient light sensors (ALS) would be coming to next-generation AirPods in one to two years. And the sensors would enable the wireless headphones to monitor heart rates and health conditions, which would help supplement other health and fitness-related data like step counts. 

ALS can detect heart rates by emitting an infrared scan on the skin and monitoring the change in light bounced off blood cells in the body. By sensing changes in blood vessel volume as blood cells pass through them, a heart rate can be detected, and other health conditions can be extrapolated when combined with additional data. 

As it stands, the AirPods 3 are predicted to arrive in the second half of 2021 (opens in new tab), at least according to Apple oracle and analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. We had thought the AirPods 3 would arrive in the second half of this year, around the same time as an iPhone 12 (opens in new tab) launch, but that doesn’t look very likely.

So if DigiTimes’ sources are correct, then the time frame for adding ALS to future AirPods also fits the window for the AirPods 3 release. So we could see the AirPods 3 come with new health and fitness orientated features, which would help them better take on impressive rivals such as the Google Pixel Buds 2 (opens in new tab) and Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus.

Apple has previously filed for patents relating to health monitoring in earbuds, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see it add some more health-related features to its next-generation AirPods. After all, the company has already found a lot of success with the health and wellness features in the Apple Watch, something that it’s predicted to build upon with the Apple Watch 6 (opens in new tab)

The next set of headphones expected to come out of Cupertino are likely the AirPods Studio (opens in new tab). Mass production of these over-ear headphones is apparently underway, with the headphones expected to arrive next month in time for Apple’s all-digital WWDC 2020 (opens in new tab) event.

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.