When Apple launched its AirPods, tiny wireless earbuds for those who’ve been living on Mars and haven’t heard about them, they got a coolish reception from some.
They look weird, they said. But then people started using them and for probably a year a more after the reveal in September 2016, Apple couldn’t make them fast enough.
AirPods are arguably one of the biggest hits in the Tim Cook era of Apple, thanks to great sound quality, incredibly simple set-up, strong battery life and neat features.
These include the way that if you need to talk to someone while listening to music, doing the most natural thing in the world, that is, taking one out of one of your ears, pauses the playback of whatever’s playing. Genius. Put the bud back and playback resumes.
Add to that the fact that AirPods don’t fall out of your ears as people had feared before they tried them.
So it’s no surprise that the update to the current AirPods which are, OMG, almost two years old, is eagerly awaited.
Two years, well, that’s 14 dog years and half a century, probably, in tech years.
So, what do we know?
The first tease may have come from Apple itself
On September 12 at the Steve Jobs Theater, the opening movie spoofed Mission: Impossible and at one point the central character, a young woman wearing AirPods, says, “Hey, Siri, what’s the fastest way to Steve Jobs Theater.” She didn’t tap the earbud before doing it, currently a requirement. So, as hands-free Siri is rumored for the next AirPods, I smugly turned to the guy next to me at the theater and whispered, “See? AirPods 2.”
Especially as the woman then jumped into a huge water feature, hinting, just maybe, that the next earbuds may have greater water-resistance.
But no mention of new AirPods followed.
I believe this must have been a tease for a product which, for whatever reason, Apple declined to launch on September 12. Apple doesn’t make mistakes like this, so I suspect the AirPods were due to be revealed. Then the company either felt they’re not quite ready or there just wasn’t the time in an already packed keynote for everything and AirPods were left out until next time.
After all, it’s not like there are flagging sales to spur an early replacement.
But there are increasing rumors that Apple will hold a special event in October, primarily to launch a new iPad Pro and a new MacBook.
If this is true, this would be the perfect time to add in a couple of extra products such as new AirPods.
Next AirPods Will Do What?
Well, let’s start with the obvious. They’ll be much like the current ones: super-light, with great battery life, strong audio and painless set-up and pairing. They’ll work as an earpiece for calls even if you only have one in your ear. They’ll continue to fit well eough to stay in your ears, even if you think they probably won’t. They’ll still sell as fast as Apple can make them.
And, if those really were the next AirPods in that keynote video, they look mightily like the current model.
Wireless charging case and W2 processor
Next-gen AirPods will have a new case that’s capable of wireless charging. We know this because Apple revealed it last year when it announced the AirPower charging mat. A wireless charging case was what would make the AirPods compatible with the mat.
It would make sense if Apple’s adding a wireless charging case that it would add extra features and probably update the chip inside.
Back in February, Bloomberg predicted that AirPods 2 would arrive this year with an improved wireless chip inside. Current AirPods contain the W1 chip, but the more advanced W2 chip, found in the Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 4, could be used in the AirPods 2, too.
The W2 offers way more power efficiency, so Apple could spend that on extra battery life or more features, or a mix of the two.
Of course, the AirPower pad is yet to arrive, though I believe it’s definitely happening and pretty imminent, again likely to appear alongside other stuff at any upcoming special event.
Hands-free “Hey, Siri” control
Again, that video was pretty conclusive, unless a shot showing a touch to the earbud was cut for some reason and there wasn’t time to reshoot. I still think it’s more likely that the AirPods reveal was dropped because there wasn’t time to do it justice.
After all, if the FDA clearance for Apple Watch Series 4 to perform ECG or EKG measurements hadn’t arrived in time, Apple would have had a shorter keynote. And that clearance, apparently, only happened mere hours before the special event day.
Anyway, hands-free “Hey, Siri” will simply mean that you don’t need to reach your hand to your ear and tap an AirPod to invoke the virtual personal assistant, merely call her name.
This sounds a simple add-on feature but I suspect it needs a more advanced chip and some extra software for all your Apple gadgets so when you say it, it’s the AirPods that answer, not your Watch, iPhone, iPad or HomePod, assuming the other gadgets are within earshot.
Water resistance and noise cancelation
While it’s true that the actress in the video charged through the Apple Park water feature, it doesn’t prove that greater water resistance is coming just yet. Bloomberg has also talked about this improved feature, but instead of this year has suggested this will come next year.
I don’t believe this will mean you can swim in your AirPods, unless Apple devises a special swimming cable so they don’t float out and get lost. But it will mean you can shower in them, if you wish. Though, please, no phone calls from there.
Also hinted at for next year’s update is noise-canceling. This will be a big step forward, especially for making phone calls, though current beam-forming microphones make for good call quality in dodgy surroundings already.
Noise-canceling will take some doing as it’s notoriously heavy on battery use, and the cell in the AirPods is tiny, of course. Though that W2 efficiency would help.
There are plenty of sensors in the AirPods already, but some earbuds measure heart rate as well, something Apple could add here and which would be tremendously useful for monitoring your workout in more detail.
Though there’s been no big news leak about AirPods 2 apart from the video, the rumors have been twinkling along under the surface pretty consistently.
I think: AirPods 2, same price as current model, will be announced in the next few weeks, on sale immediately after, with hands-free “Hey, Siri”. Then, next year, AirPods 3 will be upon us with advanced sensors and capabilities, perhaps for a higher price.
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