With the next Apple event scheduled for tomorrow (September 12), there's plenty to get excited about in terms of new Apple product launches just around the corner. While the star arrival will undoubtedly be the new iPhone 15 lineup, as audio editor I am hopeful that there will be some AirPods developments along with news on the latest Apple Adaptive Audio enhancements properly unveiled at the "Wonderlust" dubbed event.
Although there's nothing official yet, there have been plenty of rumors circulating that Apple is gearing up to unveil an update for the AirPods Pro. That's most likely to be a swap to a USB-C charging case according to Mark Gurman, a reputable Bloomberg reporter known for his insights into Apple's plans. And while I can't deny the significance of the change to the universally accepted USB-C port on the AirPods Pro 2 charging case, I really hope there's something more than that.
Of course, Apple doesn’t update each category of AirPods on a yearly basis, but it does tend to introduce a new set of AirPods each year. So while the AirPods Pro 2 launched in September last year, I feel it's a pretty safe bet that a non-Pro AirPods version could be on the way this year. I have my fingers crossed.
Could the low-cost AirPods Lite version that was mooted earlier this year as "a lower priced product to compete with non-Apple earbuds" finally materialize? Or could the so-called AirPods 4 model be on the way? Either way, here are five features I'd like to see included.
1. A transparent option
As my colleague Kate Kozuch noted, the design language of Apple's AirPods earbuds has hardly evolved over the course of five models. Buyers are spoiled for choice with color options for the $549 AirPods Max, but each new AirPods earbuds generation are only ever available in Apple's trademark white finish, leaving any kind of personalization to customizing AirPods cases.
A transparent or translucent option like the Beats Studio+ (an Apple-owned company by the way) would be a great boost to the AirPods look, and particularly appealing to younger buyers that might be attracted by a lower cost AirPods option.
We've seen similar transparent models from Apple rival Nothing with its recent Ear (2) and Ear Stick earbud models aimed at attracting on-trend consumers. It's not even as though this would be out of keeping with Apple's brand identity, as see-through design have been around since the company launched the first translucent Mac in 1997.
AirPods 4, or whatever the next-generation AirPods are called, could be well-suited to multiple color options. If the colors match the new iPhone 15, then even better.
2. Stronger battery life
The AirPods 3 ($179 / £189 / AU$289) battery life stood up reasonably well when first launched in October 2021, promising up to 6 hours from the earbuds and 30 hours of top ups from the charging case. Today, they're falling behind rivals like the Soundcore By Anker Liberty 4NC ($99 / £79 / AU$199). Ranked as one of the best cheap wireless earbuds, they promise up to 10 hours from a single charge, and up to 50 hours capacity from the charging case.
3. A more powerful processing chip
Any AirPods 4 should incorporate Apple's newer H2 chip that first appeared in the AirPods Pro 2 launched last year. This could help with energy efficiency and processing power, so it's partly linked to the stronger battery life mentioned above.
Although the application of the features available on any trimmed down AirPods version is difficult to gauge, it would be great to see learning and auto personalization features based on listening habits and preferences that adapt on the fly under certain conditions.
4. Apple's Find My AirPods should be included
Given the potential for an AirPods version at a new price point, it's reasonable to expect that some popular Apple ecosystem features may not be incorporated. Having said that, I wouldn't mind betting that any new AirPods introduction will have some Apple essentials. Features like battery optimization and the extremely useful Find My AirPods that tracks down lost buds by pinging the charging case should make an appearance.
5. A lower price
It's almost a year since we saw the highly anticipated next-gen AirPods Pro 2 replace the company's original ANC earbuds with significant feature advances. And Apple surprised many of us by launching its second generation version at exactly the same price as the original ($249 / £249 / AU$399). Although a boon for fans of Apple's flagship ANC earbuds already anticipating a price hike for the Pro 2 version, they're still a considerable outlay and keep the brand out of reach for many wireless earbud buyers, despite the undeniably great performance and features.
Currently, the most affordable models in the company's four-strong AirPods earbuds lineup are the AirPods 3 ($169) and the AirPods 2 ($129) non-ANC models. Although, the Beats Studio+ may go some way to introducing Apple fans to its ecosystem for less, and AirPods entry-level model under $99 would be a great addition to the lineup. Only time will tell.
What's happening with Apple Adaptive Audio?
Apple's Adaptive Audio for AirPods advances rollout with the iOS 17 software update may have grabbed the headlines earlier in the year, but it's been pretty quiet since. The enhancements are specifically designed for the AirPods Pro 2, meaning that the AirPods Max will miss out. Said to achieve a hybrid listening experience that gives the wearer a mix of transparency mode and ANC to provide the best of both listening technologies in one place, I'm looking forward to finally getting to try out the audio advances and what this means in practice once the iOS 17 arrives alongside the expected iPhone 15 launch on September 12.
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As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.