Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro continue to be hugely successful for the company, even as brands from Sennheiser to Bose, Samsung to Grado, dip their toes in the true-wireless headphone category. Now, a report from reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims that the next version of AirPods is coming as soon as the first half of next year and will have a new design.
The third-generation AirPods will, Kuo says, have a design that is much closer to the premium AirPods Pro. Which is certainly something that will keep rival brands on their toes.
When he revealed a new product design, it was an iMac, Apple exec Phil Schiller commented that as soon as you’ve seen a new design, the old one just looks, well, old. When Apple revealed AirPods Pro, it kept the AirPods in the range so there are different products for different budgets.
But, if you have a pair of AirPods, you can be forgiven if you looked longingly at the design of the Airpods Pro.
Perhaps you admired the silicone ear tips that ensure a snug, noise-isolating fit, the bulkier body that stays in the ear more securely (well, most ears, anyway) and, above all, that short, stubby stem.
The AirPods Pro stalk is much shorter and flat on one side. So, any AirPods wearer can recognize what another user is wearing. The shorter stem is the main visible difference and so could be seen as the status symbol, I’m wearing AirPods Pro, and you’re not.
So, the predicted move to something that looks more like the Pro could be a bother for Samsung, Sennheiser et al as they seek to stamp their own name on in-ear design.
Samsung arguably has gone the furthest, with a radically different design in its Galaxy Buds Live which sit entirely in your ear and are shaped like kidney beans. Samsung pointed out at the time that removing the stalk was a big step forward.
Well, AirPods 3 won’t be stalk-less, but the other advantage – they look like AirPods Pro! – could be a winner for Apple.
Not that it’s expected that AirPods 3 will have the sensational noise-cancelation that AirPods Pro manage. It looks like that will be a Pro-only feature for now.
Of course, there’s one other thing to consider: if AirPods 3 look like AirPods Pro, will Apple redesign the Pro model so that premium purchasers can be sure everyone knows they have the pricey version?
If so, and I wouldn’t be surprised, it starts the whole thing all over again.