AirPods 3 release looking close as Apple cuts production on older earbuds

AirPods 3 design leak
(Image credit: @LeaksApplePro)

It’s looking more likely than ever that the AirPods 3 will launch this year, as Apple is reportedly hoping that launching the new wireless earbuds will turn around its falling AirPods sales.

Nikkei Asia reported that Apple is reducing its planned production of the AirPods and AirPods Pro by 25% to 30%, suggesting that Cupertino’s dominance in the wireless earbuds arena is slipping. However, Apple is also hoping the “new AirPods slated to be introduced this year” will send sales climbing back up.

While not named specifically this is almost definitely referring to the AirPods 3. Even with a no-show at the Apple event on April 20, mass production on the new buds is apparently set for the second half of 2021. We’ve also seen multiple leaks of the AirPods 3’s design, indicating that’s it’s close to being finished. Counterfeit AirPods 3 have even popped up using the leaked design.

 “New AirPods” could also potentially include the rumored AirPods Pro 2, though we haven’t seen or heard about this nearly as much as the AirPods 3. Twitter tipster LeaksApplePro previously estimated a Q4 2021 launch for the AirPods Pro 2 at the earliest, though was some time ago and plans can change.

Nikkei Asia’s report also included some interesting tidbits about the current-gen AirPods, including Apple’s earbuds market share falling from 60% in 2018 to 31% in 2020. It seems like prospective buyers really are looking into the best Apple AirPods alternatives, as cheaper rivals like the Jabra Elite Active 75t, Sennheiser CX 400BT and Skullcandy Dime are all drawing attention away from the AirPods and AirPods Pro.

With the $549, over-ear AirPods Max in a completely different headphones category, and over a year and a half since the last in-ear AirPods launch, it’s certainly high time Apple focused on releasing the AirPods 3. More leaks are likely, so stay tuned.

James Archer

James is currently Hardware Editor at Rock Paper Shotgun, but before that was Audio Editor at Tom’s Guide, where he covered headphones, speakers, soundbars and anything else that intentionally makes noise. A PC enthusiast, he also wrote computing and gaming news for TG, usually relating to how hard it is to find graphics card stock.