The AirPods 3 remain one of the worst-kept secrets in tech, with reports of Apple's third-gen wireless earbuds surfacing almost immediately after the AirPods 2 launch. We know they're coming at some point, and rumors that they'll feature noise cancellation, water resistance and other unique features continue to gain traction the closer we approach Apple's October 2019 event.
If all the gossip surrounding the AirPods 3 somehow comes to fruition, we're in for a game changer that will elevate the true wireless listening experience on iOS and macOS devices. Still, there is a lot that we don't know about the new AirPods. To get you up to speed on all the latest developments, we've compiled this breakdown of all the major AirPods 3 news and rumors based on design leaks, filed patents and the latest findings from credible sources.
We've also added our expert predictions and suggestions — you know, just in case Apple needs some inspiration.
Latest AirPods 3 news and rumors (update Oct. 7)
- 9to5Mac recently discovered a glyph in the iOS 13 beta depicting what the AirPods 3 with noise cancellation may look like.
- Slashleaks shared an image from contributor Leakspinner claiming to show the AirPods 3 "in the wild" with a smaller charging case.
- A patent spotted by Patently Apple indicates that a future AirPods model (possibly the AirPods 3) could receive swipe gestures that may also be applied to Apple future devices such as over-the-ear headphones and smart glasses.
AirPods 3 release date
A 2018 research note from TF International Securities' analyst Ming-Chi Kuo obtained by MacRumors suggests that "two new AirPods models" may launch as early as Q4 2019. Also, early reports from DigiTimes mentioned that Apple was working with Taiwanese manufacturer Inventec and Chinese Luxshare Precision to create the next-gen AirPods with a late-2019 release window.
However, Mark Gurman, a Bloomberg reporter known for his Apple sources, tweeted that the company was "working on a future version with noise cancellation and water resistance" that would likely hit the market in 2020, with no set date.
The upcoming October event may reveal the AirPods 3, but all signs point to Apple announcing newer models for its Apple TV, MacBook and Mac Pro lines.
If a 2020 release date is in the books, all we have to go by is Apple's annual event schedule. That means the AirPods 3 announcement could happen in March 2020 (aka, the "Expect Any Surprise Announcement" event), June '20 (aka, the iOS event), September '20 (aka, the iPhone event) or October '20 (aka, the MacBook event).
AirPods 3 price
According to DigiTimes' sources, the AirPods 3 will demand a "higher price" than their predecessor, especially if the rumors of an "all-new form factor design" and noise cancellation pan out. The AirPods 2 options currently sell at $159 with the standard charging case and $199 with a wireless charging case. Expectations are that the AirPods 3 will launch for $199, which would make them Apple's most expensive true wireless model next to the $250 Beats Powerbeats Pro.
You may also want to take AppleCare+ protection into consideration, an option Apple recently made available for AirPods and Beats headphones. That's an extra $29 for coverage.
AirPods 3 design
Apple left the AirPods design untouched when introducing the second-gen version. All the latest hearsay on the AirPods 3 implies that a new design is in the works, one that will factor in to the earbuds' fit and noise-filtering capabilities.
DigiTimes reported that the next AirPods may feature "a brand-new internal design adopting SiP (system in package) technology instead of rigid-flex board combination." In layman's terms, this would free up more space on the inside of each bud for Apple to integrate new components.
In addition, Guilherme Rambo at 9to5Mac pulled a Sherlock Holmes and discovered clues in the iOS 13 beta hinting at the AirPods 3 updated design. The first detail is a gray-scale illustration he "found in a component of the system related to accessibility settings" that shows the AirPods with a shorter stem and ear tips that slide into the ear canal for a more secure fit. This icon also resembles a leaked image published by music site 52 Audio.
The AirPods 1 and 2 provide passive noise isolation to block your ear canal while still allowing external sounds to leak in. Integrated ear tips would help with passive noise reduction by creating an acoustic seal to block out noise and increase fidelity at lower volumes. Keep in mind that this is different from noise cancellation, which the rumor mill is billing as the AirPods 3's killer feature.
AirPods 3 noise cancellation
Noise cancellation in true wireless form seemed unrealistic until Sony cracked the code. The company needed three attempts, but somehow Sony figured it out with the vastly impressive WF-1000XM3. Amazon has followed suit with the Echo Buds, featuring effective noise-reduction technology from Bose; this is not the same as active noise cancellation, though.
Based on analyst predictions and leaked designs, the AirPods 3 might support some form of noise cancellation. No specifics have been divulged on how the technology will work, although 9to5Mac found some clues in the iOS 13.2 beta indicating that the buds will have different listening modes. One of those is referred to as "focus mode" in the system.
What else is known, at least from a DigiTimes report, is that Apple is experiencing difficulties cramming the necessary parts into the AirPods compact design. Sources said, "semiconductor devices can hardly work without suffering electromagnetic disturbance ... how the structural design of the noise-forward feedback microphone can be done well to achieve harmonious operation with other devices is a great challenge for designers and assemblers."
AirPods 3 water resistance
Talk of Apple creating water-resistant AirPods dates back to the AirPods 2 production phase. Despite the latest version not offering this feature, closer inspection via an iFixit teardown shows that the AirPods 2 charging case has "water-repellent coating" on its circuit board that "seems designed for increased durability, but not repairability."
If the latest predictions from Bloomberg hold up, expect the AirPods 3 and the charging case to also be water resistant, not waterproof. We have a strong feeling that the buds will boast the same sweat- and water-resistant properties as the Powerbeats Pro, though neither Apple nor Beats have yet to publicly mention the IPX rating. However, iMore reported that Beats confirmed an IPX4 rating "in a marketing flyer sent out to reviewers."
AirPods 3 charging case
The leaked image posted by Slashleaks of the alleged AirPods 3 charging case was supposedly taken after the iPhone 11 announcement event. As you can see, the grainy quality makes it difficult to identify details, although the case does look slightly smaller than the latest AirPods case. Apple may decide to upgrade the water-repellent coating featured on the AirPods 2 case, but we're expecting more of the same.
One rumor that surprisingly hasn't picked up steam has the AirPods 3 charging case doubling as an Apple Watch charger. Huh? Yes, our exact thoughts, but this patent application discovered by Digital Trends proposes that the next AirPods case will be able to wirelessly recharge the Apple Watch and other Apple products. This seems far-fetched and may end up as nothing more than a concept.
AirPods 3 features we want to see
With the anticipation of an all-new Apple product comes an endless list of demands from Apple users. The AirPods have seen some nice improvements with every iteration, and the AirPods 3 can only benefit from new features, design elements, software updates and accessories. Here are some of the notable upgrades we have in mind for the AirPods 3.
Extended battery life
The original AirPods set the category standard for battery life at 5 hours. Well, the competition caught up quickly, with many newer headphone models surpassing that mark by several hours. Even the Powerbeats Pro crushes its sibling, lasting 9 hours. Simply put, we need more juice out of the AirPods 3, at least 2 to 3 hours more.
A few companies have been able to match or outperform the AirPods 24-hour charging case, but that's come at the cost of a larger design. The JLab Epic Air Sport's charging case holds 60 additional hours, and is a behemoth. It would be an amazing feat for Apple to increase the portable power of the company's tiny charging case.
A sound boost
We've done several reviews and face-offs comparing the AirPods 2's audio quality to that of other true wireless earbuds. The latter have come out victorious nearly 90% of the time. Apple's signature earbuds do have some energy to them, but they pale in comparison to elite-sounding models like the Jabra Elite Active 65t and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. All it would take for Apple to win us over is to carry over the Powerbeats Pro's soundstage onto the AirPods 3 or build a custom EQ in iOS.
MORE: Best Wireless Earbuds
Apple has done an incredible job claiming white as its signature color, especially for its portable products. Considering the striking shades featured on other major releases (e.g., the iPhone and MacBook), it's time for the AirPods to receive a more colorful treatment. Black and (Product) Red variants seem like obvious choices, but Apple shouldn't be afraid to experiment with bolder color schemes.
Apple Tag compatibility
Screenshots obtained by MacRumors point toward Apple developing a personal-item tracker dubbed the "Apple Tag." Think of it as a Tile alternative you can attach to possessions and track through iOS or macOS. "But the AirPods already support this feature via Find My iPhone" is exactly what you're saying right now. That's correct. However, more leaked screenshots show evidence within iOS 13 suggesting that Apple Tag will support augmented reality features that make locating lost items easier.
Improved Android pairing
Still unbeknownst to many, you can connect the AirPods to an Android phone; Apple just makes the process difficult for non-Apple users. The AirPods 2 are powered by Bluetooth 5.0, which offers more strong connectivity but doesn't operate well on Android devices. Not to mention that the AirPods' H1 chip is optimized specifically for Apple devices and offers far-better connectivity. While the idea of Apple creating a new chip to enhance Android pairing is unlikely, we're hoping the company finds a way to strengthen Bluetooth performance on the AirPods 3.
More ear tips, please
Apple's been incredibly stingy with bundled AirPods accessories. High up on everyone's wish list are interchangeable ear tips. The AirPods plastic exterior doesn't provide the best grip or stability, which has resulted in owners spending over $700 million a year on replacement AirPods, as reported by one Wall Street analyst. Getting rubber ear tips or other cool accessories like fins would help secure the buds in the ears.
Get the AirPower to work
Technical difficulties between components and the wireless charging schemes of its current products forced Apple to pull the plug on the AirPower Wireless Charging Mat. The device was said to operate at full power to charge three Apple devices simultaneously, in other words, your Apple Watch, iPhone and AirPods. Introducing a newer version during the October event that's compatible with the latest iPhone 11 models and the AirPods 3 would be one way to show Apple's portable catalog some love during what's rumored to be an iPad/MacBook-centric affair.