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AirPods 3: What we know about the 3rd gen wireless earbuds

Apple’s Spring Loaded event came and went and the AirPods 3 wireless earbuds didn’t make an appearance. But recent rumours suggest the headphones could arrive alongside a new Apple Music service

Rumours about Apple’s latest true wireless had pegged an early 2021 release date. We’re into May so that’s come and gone, but in early May a rumour did the rounds online suggesting the wireless earbuds could launch alongside Apple Music Hi-Fi, a new tier that would (if true) support higher quality music on the service.

Whatever the case may be, here’s everything we know about the AirPods 3.

The new AirPods are rumoured to go on sale in 2021. When exactly is a point of contention.

John Prosser said the 3rd-gen model were due in 2020, but that didn’t happen. Prosser – not the most reliable source – offered another potential date for the unveiling – Apple’s March 2021 event. That didn’t happen either.

AirTags, a new iPad Pro and an updated Apple TV were unveiled at the Spring Loaded event, but the new AirPods remained on the side-lines. Throughout 2020 it was speculated that mass production of the earbuds was going to start in the first-half of 2021.

However, Apple prognosticator Ming-Chi Kuo indicated the the AirPods 3 wont’ be be unveiled in early 2021 and instead are going into mass production in Q3 2021. That would put the earbuds just ahead of the AirPods Pro 2 in the production schedule, and possibly line them up for the next iPhone launch.

There’s been more ‘confirmation’ of a release later in the year. 9to5Mac reported that an anonymous leaker with proven record on Chinese social website Weibo said the “AirPods 2 will not die”.

However, in early May another rumour surfaced from Hits Daily Double, purporting that the launch of the next-gen earbuds are going to coincide with announcement of a Hi-Fi tier sometime in May. Consider the third-gen AirPods very much a rumour for now, but there might be something concrete to the Apple Music Hi-Fi tier as 9to5Mac did some digging into iOS code and found some interesting nuggets that hint, at the very least, support for higher quality audio in the iOS code.

The 2nd-gen AirPods (with the wireless case) were £199/$199. We expect the AirPods 3rd gen to fetch a similar price, with the 2nd-gen either removed from sale or knocked down to become the entry level offering.

This is a pure guess on our part. It’s our feeling Apple wouldn’t want to rock the boat for what’s become a very popular product by upping the price.

According to Ming-Chi Kuo, the AirPods 3 could boast a different design. If true, it’d be biggest redesign since the true wireless AirPod range first went on sale.

Kuo believes that the AirPods 3 will have a similar form factor to the AirPods Pro, and it’s a claim backed up by Bloomberg.

A leak in the early months of 2021 revealed a new design. Spotted by MacRumors, the render concept had ear-tips attached, with the suggestion they could be attached or detached. That sounds rather strange to us.

However, another image surfaced on Japanese website 52audio. It’s of an earbud that looks similar-ish to the AirPods Pro, and that would indicate that both Kuo and Bloomberg are on the right track.

Another image has since popped up for the third different interpretation of an AirPod. From the bulbous housing and what looks like a slightly shorter stem, what’s missing is the lack of an ear-tip. Both LeaksApplePro and Gizmochina have uncovered similar looking renders.

The charging case looks to have been tweaked – it’s wider and slightly curvier. That gives us hope the total battery life could finally be extended beyond the current 24 hours. And what about colours? It’s been a bugbear of ours that Apple only ships the AirPods out in a glossy white finish – not great considering it’s easy for dirt to show up. With the AirPods Max available in several different colours, could the same beckon for the AirPods 3?

According to Ming-Chi Kuo, as well as adopting the Pro’s design, the AirPods 3 will include the ANC earbud’s SiP technology. SiP stands for system-in-package chip solution, and this could reduce the amount of space the circuit componentry takes up for more features to be put in. Active noise cancellation is not thought to be coming to this model, however.

Patently Apple noticed a patent about the AirPod’s sensors that gather information about orientation and measurements from the accelerometer. Info from the AirPod will be used in conjunction with an iPhone to supply “the user with coaching and feedback while evaluating user performance of a head movement routine or other exercise routine.” A scenario for this would be striking a yoga pose or training in a gym.

We’ve been hearing about features such as ambient light sensors that could provide biometric feedback. This would also lead into the health-related features circulating around the AirPods for the past few years.

Battery life is another area that could receive an upgrade. Other rumoured features include a pressure relieving system designed to reduced discomfort over extended listening sessions, and a new audio test function to determine whether the quality of the earbuds’ sound requires adjusting. The feature was leaked by Fudge, and the image below seems to depict a new phone holder with an attachment for the AirPods pointed towards the iPhone microphone. From there it can assess whether there’s an issue with the AirPods’s audio quality.

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