According to a research note obtained by MacRumors (opens in new tab), TF International Securities analyst and all-round Apple oracle Ming-Chi Kuo predicts Apple will use a similar compact system-in-package (SIP) design found in the AirPods Pro with the next-generation standard AirPods. Doing this should allow the AirPods 3 to have a more compact design.
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One of the more divisive aspects of the current AirPods 2 is that they sport long stems. The stems on the earbuds hold some of the electronics and the microphones to ensure the second-generation AirPods deliver decent audio quality when making hands-free calls. But they can look a little ostentatious.
The AirPods Pro dramatically shortened the stems on each earbud without compromising on audio quality, which helped make the headphones look a lot more appealing. This was all thanks to the SIP design, which enabled Apple to fit in the custom H1 chip into the headphones to handle audio and Siri voice commands, as well as deliver active noise cancellation.
By using SIP in the AirPods 3, the headphones could be a lot more Pro-like in design and features. Kuo has previously said that SIP is needed to see Apple advance the design of its AirPods, which have arguably started to look a little long-in-the-tooth when compared to other wireless earbuds like the Pixel Buds 2 (opens in new tab) and Sony WF-1000XM3 (opens in new tab).
However, if the AirPods 3 become more akin to the AirPods Pro, Apple will likely need to find ways to make its next Pro earbuds then stand out from the standard ones.
Apple could either upgrade the AirPods Pro or concentrate more on the development of the AirPods Studio (opens in new tab), its rumored over-ear headphones that were predicted to be revealed at WWDC 2020 but were sadly absent.
Although it'd be well-timed for Apple to launch AirPods 3 alongside the iPhone 12 (which won't come with EarPods) and Apple Watch 6 in the fall, Kuo predicts the AirPods 3 are coming in the first half of 2021 and will fall around the sub-$200 price point. It's likely AirPods 3 will replace AirPods 2 on store shelves as well.