Much like its predecessors, the AirPods 3 may introduce some new features, while carrying over signature ones from the AirPods Pro such as adaptive sound, customized fit, and noise cancellation. Should this be the case, the Apple AirPods 3 could wind up becoming another Apple product that has been rumored for a while: the AirPods Pro Lite. A stripped-down version of the AirPods Pro at a cheaper cost? It’s a strong possibility, but one that remains uncertain, for now.
- Check out our Beats Powerbeats 4 review
- Everything we know about the Apple AirPods X headphones
- iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 Pro: Everything we know so far
Nonetheless, if what industry experts and the Twitterverse are reporting pan out, we won’t have to wait long to have the AirPods 3 dangling from our ears.
Here’s the lowdown on the Apple AirPods 3 so far, including the AirPods 3 potential release date, price, specs, features, and more.
Apple AirPods 3 release date
The COVID-19 outbreak has thrown a wrench in Apple’s 2020 product lineup schedule. Whether the AirPods 3 is listed among this year’s releases remains unknown, though the most recent reports suggest many potential release dates, ranging from late 2020 to late 2021.
In a research note seen by MacRumors that was issued to investors, well-known Apple insider Ming-Chi Kuo suggested that there will be no new AirPods release this year. His current prediction has the AirPods 3 coming in the first half of 2021. Another report from DigiTimes states that Apple plans on releasing its AirPods Pro follow-up during the second half of 2021, which could end up being the AirPods 3, though there’s no way of knowing at the moment.
One report from supply chain sources also has the AirPods 3 tipped to launch in the first half of 2021. The latest report from DigiTimes predicts the same.
Kuo also believes that Apple plans to clear its current stock, which has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
It's a possibility that we could see the AirPods 3 launch alongside the Apple AirPods Studio, the company’s long-rumored over-ear headphones that Prosser previously claimed was “aimed for WWDC,” but was MIA. Given that all tech shows have been canceled by the coronavirus outbreak, we expect the AirPods 3 to be announced via press release, much like the recent iPad Pro 2020 and iPhone SE 2020.
Apple AirPods 3 price
Let’s take two things into consideration here: naming convention and specs. Not having “Pro” in its moniker implies the AirPods 3 will be cheaper than the AirPods Pro. Cheaper by how much, though, has yet to be determined. Currently, the AirPods Pro is available for $249 with wireless charging case.
If the AirPods 3 serves as a true sequel to the AirPods 2, then we can assume it will share a similar MSRP too, which falls around the sub-$200 price point: $159 for the basic model and $199 with wireless charging case. Kuo also claims that Apple plans on slashing prices for the current AirPods model later this year.
Another claim he makes is that the iPhone 12 will not include a free pair of EarPods. A new MacRumors report suggests the same theory, noting a recent update to the iOS codebase that changes the phrase “supplied headphones” to “headphones,” implying that there will be no audio freebies bundled with Apple’s upcoming smartphone.
This makes a lot of sense, especially when excluding them would naturally drive sales of the entire AirPods collection. Should that be the case, speculation leads us to believe that Apple will launch some type of AirPods promotion to coincide with the upcoming iPhone launches.
In addition, there is talk of Apple rolling out a payment plan service for the AirPods and all other upcoming Apple products, as reported by Bloomberg. This would allow customers to purchase the AirPods 3 “over monthly installments via its Apple Card credit card,” with costs split up “over several months with interest-free payments.”
Pricing could also vary based on what new specs Apple stuffs inside the AirPods 3’s porcelain shell. Whatever route the company goes, the purchase is going to come at a premium.
Apple AirPods 3 design
If you’ve wished for the AirPods to receive a completely revamped look, well, there may be a small glimmer of hope. A report early last year by well-known Apple insider Ming-Chi Kuo noted to investors that Apple had been working on two models for launch in Q4 2019: one of them sharing the same design as the AirPods 2 and the other coming in a new form factor. It’s possible the former may have turned out to be the AirPods Pro, with the AirPods 3 being the other model in question.
However, Kuo’s latest report states the third-gen version will only have internal changes; the external design would remain the same. This falls in line with what MacRumors editor Joe Rossignol tweeted in March regarding the next-gen AirPods bearing an identical resemblance to the AirPods Pro:
Apple announced its second-gen AirPods on March 20, 2019, so they are nearly a year old. "AirPods Pro Lite" could end up being third-gen AirPods (no Pro in name) with same in-ear design and sound quality as the AirPods Pro, but no noise cancellation. Just spitballing… https://t.co/NRo2OkPKIoFebruary 20, 2020
Kuo backs up Rossignol’s tweet by suggesting the buds will have a form factor “similar to AirPods Pro,” per the latest research note obtained by MacRumors. Word is Apple may use a similar system-in-package (SIP) design found in the company’s ANC wireless earbuds, allowing the H1 chip and noise-cancelling circuitry to fit into a more compact design.
Let’s say this is true, then also add black microphone vents, longer sound ports, and the small indented “force sensor” at the bottom of each stem to the list. Now that Apple has become a more environmentally friendly brand, there’s also the possibility that the AirPods 3 may be manufactured from recyclable parts, much like the AirPods Pro.
Unfortunately, there are no solid rumors suggesting the AirPods 3 will ship with sweat or water resistance. This is a feature currently exclusive to the AirPods Pro, so again, taking naming conventions into account, it’s unlikely the AirPods 3 come with IPX4 certification.
Something else that hasn’t generated much buzz is color availability. Must we settle for Apple White a fourth time around? At this point, it’s looking more like a hard yes, though Apple might want to rethink its strategy. A new leak spotted by Android Police shows HTC has a truly wireless model in the works that boasts the same long-stemmed silhouette as the AirPods, and a glossy black finish. Since the Powerbeats Pro is now available in eight exciting colors, the AirPods 3 could only benefit from sleeker shades like Space Gray, Midnight Green or any of the other enticing iPhone 11 colorways.
Apple AirPods 3 specs and features
While details remain unconfirmed, we’re seeing more leaks and reports from experts who believe Apple may make some significant improvements to its next-gen buds.
We believe any major features the AirPods 3 take on are likely to come as part of the upcoming iOS 14 update. The latest features announced for the AirPods Pro will certainly be carried over to the AirPods 3, including Dolby Atoms support and spatial audio to create a more cinematic experience. Add automatic switching to the list as well, which will automatically change the audio input based on the Apple device you’re using via iCloud account.
Two other features that seem like givens are Headphones Accommodation for amplifying soft sounds and frequency adjustments, and Hearing Health, which has been updated to send notifications when listening to music that’s too loud. The final version is expected to release in September to coincide with the iPhone 12 launch.
The most recent rumor involves an enhanced version of the Apple Pro’s transparency mode with a personal safety feature. Experts describe it as being a “contextual audio system” that can detect potential hazards and either lower or mute audio in either AirPod, depending on threat proximity. One example being used to explain the feature is a cyclist being able to hear a car or another cyclist to provide better traffic awareness.
Reports of Apple testing a range of health features on future AirPods models date back to 2019, though nothing came of it. Could we see some of these on the AirPods 3? Industry sources recently shared with DigiTimes that ambient light sensors (ALS) could be integrated into the next-gen AirPods, allowing them to monitor heart rates and specific health conditions. If true, this would make the wireless earbuds a suitable fitness-tracking alternative to the Apple Watch.
It’s also worth noting that Apple recently won over 60 patents; Patently Apple has breakdowns of the more intriguing ones for the AirPods and MacBook Air. One patent shows an AirPods model with sensors that can “gather orientation information” and “supplies the user with coaching and feedback” during workout routines, which would be beneficial for exercises like Yoga when performing poses, stretches, and head tilts.
Then there’s the latest rumor (via AppleInsider) of Apple potentially using bone conduction technology for “Multipath audio stimulation using audio compressors" on future AirPods. In short, the feature would employ bone conduction transmissions that, in theory, could “send signals through the bones in your skull to be received by your eardrums, even when the pods aren’t inside your ear.” It sounds a bit too ambitious for us, but hey, you never know with Apple.
Going back to Rossignol’s tweet, the AirPods 3 may have the same sound quality as the AirPods Pro, which insinuates the buds will have an adaptive EQ. The same could also mean the inclusion of the AirPods Pro’s Ear Tip Fit Test that helps to “offer a solid seal and excellent sound,” should the AirPods 3 come bundled with tips.
Something else to keep an eye out for at the upcoming iPhone event is the Apple Tags announcement. Leaks suggested the device would be ready for launch at WWDC 2020, but that clearly didn’t happen. We’re predicting these tiny Bluetooth trackers will make their appearance during the iOS 14 presentation at the iPhone 12 launch. Based on what the Internet is saying, Apple Tags would make locating the AirPods 3 (and all other portable Apple products) a breeze.
A Bloomberg report from February claimed that Apple is heavily considering letting users set third-party apps as their default options on iPhones. That means instead of using the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, you’ll be able to use other popular services like Google Chrome and Gmail right off the bat. This could also carry over to the AirPods 3, allowing user-friendly features like “Hey Siri” and Announce Messages to operate more seamlessly with non-Apple programs.
One question that always comes up when discussing next-gen AirPods is if a new Apple processor will be unveiled. The current H1 chip made a huge splash on the AirPods 2, improving audio latency, battery management (50% more talk time), and connectivity, just to name a few. Let’s not forget hands-free “Hey Siri” support and Audio Share (listen to music from two sets of AirPods or Beats headphones on one audio source) as well.
Unfortunately, there has been zero chatter about an H1 successor. What we do know, based on recent launches and other scheduled (and rumored) Apple audio products slated for release this year, is that the H1 chip will continue to be at the forefront of operation. A leak discovered by MacRumors in the iOS 13.3.1 software update indicated the all-new Beats Powerbeats 4 would run on the H1 chip: that turned out to be true.
Lastly, as all signs point to the AirPods 3 being a lower-priced product, it’s presumed the buds will launch without active noise cancellation. Sources cited in a report by Taiwanese website DigiTimes state this as well. Sony’s noise-cancelling powerhouse, the Sony WF-1000xM3, has currently dropped to $199, so if Apple did somehow include ANC, it would certainly undercut both Sony and all other competitors in the same price range.
Apple AirPods 3 battery and charging case
Everyone’s biggest complaint about the AirPods is battery life. The AirPods 1 and 2 offer only 5 hours on a single charge, while the AirPods Pro is rated lower at 4.5 hours; ANC takes up a lot of juice. The charging cases for all three models provide the same amount of playtime: 24 hours. There are no reports that suggest these numbers will change regarding the AirPods 3.
Our guess is that battery life will remain between 4.5 to 5 hours on a single charge. Boo. Wireless charging also sounds like a guarantee, especially since Apple has released Qi-based wireless charging cases for its latest models.
When launched, iOS 14 is set to introduce new features that will improve battery management such as notifications and Optimized Battery Charging. The former sends a reminder via pop-up message on your iDevice to charge your AirPods, while the latter was developed to learn your daily charging routine and waits to finish charging past 80 percent until it’s necessary; experts say you can preserve battery health over time by preventing a lithium-ion battery from charging to 100 percent.
Apple’s quick charging feature seems like another given. The AirPods 2 offers three hours on a 15-minute charge, whereas the AirPods Pro performs similarly, netting users 1 hour of playtime on a 5-minute charge. While effective, we feel Apple needs to take a page out of Beats’ playbook, and utilize the Powerbeats Pro’s Fast Fuel feature, which gives you slightly more playtime within the same charging time: 1.5 hours on a 5-minute charge and 4.5 hours on 15 minutes.
As per Apple Insider, Kuo’s latest report stated the AirPods 3 would adopt cheaper and less complex battery technology, along with the iPhone 12 and 12s device. This would save Apple on battery unit costs. There is even talk of Apple replacing the “existing rigid-flex PCB solution” in the current iPhones with a combination of "flexible printed circuit boards" and the SiP used in the AirPods Pro, per DigiTimes. This could allow for longer-lasting 5G phones with larger capacity batteries that might also affect the AirPods 3’s battery life in a positive way.
As for the charging case, nothing has been leaked or revealed. One rumor that Trusted Reviews has shared regarding the next-gen AirPods charging case is the possibility of integrated speaker connectivity. The publication cites a 2017 patent detailing and illustrating a charging case that’s designed to send “media to a non-wireless output device connected to the case.” This would likely be achieved through the H1 chip, letting music be streamed on the AirPods, then transmitted to a speaker.
Another patent discovered by Patently Apple shows Apple working on a new “bistable hinge” for the AirPods Pro case, which could potentially apply to the AirPods 3 or the newly-rumored AirPods Pro 2. That means the case may have a cap that snaps into position to keep the lid securely shut, which would be an upgrade, as the magnetic lid on the current AirPods cases is flimsy as hell.
What we want from the Apple AirPods 3
Where do we begin? The AirPods series as a whole is due for some aesthetic, high-tech and practical upgrades. Seeing how Apple finally caved into some consumer demands with the AirPods Pro (e.g. ANC, integrated ear tips), there’s a chance that the AirPods 3 receives similar, if not better treatment. Here’s what we have on our own wish list.
Adaptive EQ and aptX HD: While far from a game-changer, the AirPods Pro’s adaptive EQ does enhance sound, even if by a small margin. That doesn’t mean Apple can’t improve it on the AirPods 3. Its inclusion, along with aptX HD, which the Sony WF-1000xM3 is rumored to be receiving an update for and allows for wireless streaming of Hi-Res Audio codecs, would make a huge difference.
Longer battery life: Competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus (11 hours) and Apple’s very own Powerbeats Pro (9 hours) offer double the playtime. It’s time to catch up.
Noise cancellation: After bringing ANC to the AirPods Pro, the worst thing Apple could do is not offer any form of noise cancellation on the AirPods 3. It doesn’t have to be ANC per se, but the company can grant passive noise reduction just by the design. The right mold and the inclusion of ear tips should allow for minimized ambient sound, plus Apple tweaking its noise-cancelling algorithm will enhance performance like Jabra did with the Jabra Elite 75t.
Fitness-tracking sensors: Companies like Jabra have engineered their sport workout earbuds to double as one of the best fitness trackers. We know Apple is all about having its consumers adopt their ecosystem, which means investing in their entire suite of products (e.g. iPhone, Apple Watch), but having an activity monitor built into the AirPods 3 would be an awesome secondary option for avid exercisers who forget to charge their smartwatch before hitting the gym.
More accessories, please: Bundled ear tips made such a huge difference in fit for the AirPods Pro, and while they would do the same for the AirPods 3, Apple needs to expand its accessories lineup with some other unique extras. For starters, let’s get some ear hooks packaged with the buds. We’ll also take a nice leather cover to style and protect the fragile charging case.
An iPhone 12/AirPods 3 bundle: Should the iPhone 12 not include a free pair of EarPods, then offering an iPhone/AirPods bundle at a slight discount would be enough incentive to own Apple’s newest wireless earbuds.