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Apple AirPods 2: Everything we know so far

Parker Hall
apple airpods siri

Josh Edelson/Getty Images

Apple’s first-generation AirPods are, hands down, the best-selling true wireless in-ears on the market right now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in dire need of an update. We’re expecting the latest AirPods (for now we’ll assume they’re called the AirPods 2) to raise the bar significantly with a slew of new features, including waterproofing, better Siri integration and much more.

Recent rumors — and the sudden reveal on Monday, March 18 of Apple’s latest iPads — suggest the release of the AirPods 2 could be imminent, landing as early as this week, and well ahead of the company’s much-hyped March 25th event expected to showcase its new streaming TV service. Read on to find out all the rumors ahead of the impending AirPods 2 release.

Features

Apple’s next-generation AirPods could include everything but the kitchen sink — heck, they could include a kitchen sink, too. The latest reporting from DigiTimes seems to support previous claims that Apple is considering adding biometric sensor technology to the AirPods 2 for health monitoring. These would be far from the first fully wireless earbuds to do so, but as with the original AirPods, we expect Apple to offer a more intuitive solution than many of the earlier models bearing the technology.

A Bloomberg report from June 2018 details Apple’s efforts to improve the next next-generation AirPods by adding noise cancellation and water resistance. Apple also wants to ensure that these AirPods (should we consider them the AirPods 3?) can work even when relatively far away from their companion smartphone or tablet. While you won’t be able to jump into a pool wearing the AirPods, Apple hopes that you’ll be able to go on a long run (even in the rain) without having to worry about sweat or precipitation damaging them. A report from MySmartPrice indicates that bass response will be improved in the new model.

Siri is already in your home, in your pocket, and on your wrist, so why not in your ears as well? Apple’s current AirPods already let you summon the voice assistant by physically tapping them, but the next iteration of the in-ear device may allow you to simply say, “Hey Siri,” as you would with your phone. Not only that, but a patent suggests that the AirPods case could become a portable media player — basically an iPod Nano in disguise. As mentioned above, Apple also is reportedly considering biometric functionality, such as a heart rate monitor. Such functionality would clearly come at an increased cost, Bloomberg noted.

The voice control feature is currently being worked on for the next generation of the AirPods, according to a February 2018 Bloomberg report, an update that is internally known as B288. Voice activation won’t be the only new part of the upcoming AirPods either, as they are also expected to include an updated Apple-designed chip for Bluetooth connection. The original AirPods utilized the W1 chip, while the most recent Apple Watch uses the W2. It’s not clear if these new AirPods will use a brand-new chip or an updated W2.

Apple has also patented a new form of pressure-sensing technology that could help its headphones determine the size and shape of a users’ ear, thereby allowing them to tune the sound of the headphones to each individual wearer. Whether or not this tech will appear on the next generation or future generations of Apple AirPods remains to be seen.

Wireless charging

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water resistant apple airpods airpods2 charging case off

Images leaked in July 2018 revealed what appears to be Apple’s wireless charging case for the AirPods 2 — and it looks a lot like the current case, save for a tiny dot of color. The images, discovered in the release of the iOS 12 developer beta 5 by 9to5Mac, appear to indicate charging status. A green light presumably indicates that the devices are ready to rock, while a yellow light signals that the earbuds are actively charging. This supports information we’ve been hearing for a while: Apple plans to incorporate some form of wireless charging feature into the AirPod case.

A patent filed by Apple adds legitimacy to those early rumors that the company would release some form of a wireless-charging AirPods case, alongside a potential wireless-charging mat. Illustrations in the patent show what appear to be a case that looks remarkably similar to the AirPods case we’re already familiar with, but with the inclusion of wireless power receivers designed to interface with a charging pad. The literature and further illustrations detail the technology within the case and the wireless-charging methodology.

It’s possible this is simply a new case for existing AirPods, but it bolsters the belief that a new version of the fully wireless earbuds is imminent.

Portable playback

A future generation of the AirPods could also feature a case that acts as a stand-alone playback device. According to a patent filed by Apple, the company has devised a case that has built-in storage and playback controls, plus the ability to play audio through its charging port.

This isn’t the first time a company has added audio storage and playback capabilities for fully wireless earbuds — we’ve already seen similar tech from Bragi — but it could be a big addition to Apple’s latest headphones. If paired with Apple Music and a set of the company’s rumored sweatproof wireless earbuds, the addition of offline storage could mean that users won’t have to bring a bulky smartphone with them to work out. There’s already a portable player called the Mighty that allows users to listen to Spotify offline, but if Apple builds its streaming service into the actual charging case, it could make for a nifty stand-alone workout accessory.

A new look?

Speaking of patents, a pair of other patent filings suggest that we could see a refreshed design for future AirPods — if not in the next generation, then possibly in a water-resistant future model. The images associated with the first filing show an in-ear headphone that more closely resembles competitors like Jabra’s Elite 65t and others. It ditches the long, cylindrical sections that hang out of listeners’ ears on the current-generation AirPods. The patent images also show three different potential designs for sports fins to keep the headphones secure.

The second patent details the internal circuitry and communication technology for potential iterations of the AirPods, and both patents also mention the addition of other sensors, such as biometrics, accelerometers, and a pulse oximeter, which suggests that future AirPods could be seriously streamlined for sports, much like Jabra’s Elite Sport.

These images notwithstanding, MySmartPrice claims that Apple will stay true to its current AirPods’ look and feel, and instead of changing the shape, it will use a different material to coat the outside of the earbuds (presumably making them less prone to slippage), and perhaps more significantly, will offer them in black as well as white.

Price and release date

The big question: When will we see Apple’s next-gen AirPods? As mentioned, the latest rumor mill seems to suggest the release could be imminent.

DigiTimes’ last report suggests we’re not far off from seeing an AirPods update as well, while the MySmartPrice report backs up the idea of a spring launch, which would coincide with the site’s expected timing of Apple’s launch of the AirPower, the wireless charging solution that Apple announced in 2017, but has yet to materialize. We frequently hear and report on rumors about what is happening inside the walls of Apple’s Cupertino, California-based headquarters, but often those rumors are just that — and eager fans are left cooling their heels while waiting for something new. However, the release of the iPads in rather unceremonious fashion for Apple on March 18 suggests the AirPods 2 could show up virtually at any moment.

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has correctly predicted a vast assortment of Apple product updates over the years, backs up the latest report that an updated version of the AirPods will be available in 2019, with a larger update scheduled for 2020. As of March 1, a new but unconfirmed report from Spanish-language blog Applesfera.com suggests that the launch will coincide with a scheduled event on March 25, and that the new AirPods could hit Apple stores a few days later on March 29. The same report also claims that Apple will discontinue the original AirPods at the same time.

Whether the new AirPods material as quickly or not, at this point we have every reason to expect them at some point in 2019, as Apple recently got mandatory Bluetooth SIG certification for new AirPods.

Leaks from November 2018 also place the new model in production, with one Twitter user posting photos of what they claim to be the new AirPods. The photos appear to show devices that are identical to the current models, so this could all be just smoke.

The new AirPods also may cost a bit more than the previous generation. MySmartPrice estimates they could come in as high as $200, versus the $159 price-point of the current model. This could suggest that Apple will keep both versions around, much the same way as it has done with products like the iPhone and Apple Watch. For his part, Kuo says the enhanced features like potential heart rate monitoring, wireless charging, and a better Bluetooth chip may all contribute to a price rise.

Continued domination

Whether or not these updated models arrive as planned, it’s a given that we will see them eventually, considering the current AirPods are selling like hotcakes. Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, has said that wearables are the second-largest contributor to the company’s revenue (after the iPhone) and that sales in that category have jumped by 70 percent.

While we called them the best fully wireless earbuds available at the time of our review, they have since been surpassed. In addition, a new generation of fully wireless earbuds for 2019 is expected to have increased battery life by as much as double what Apple currently offers. If Apple finds a way to help them stay in your ears a little better and bumps up the sound quality, while increasing the already fantastic battery life and wireless reliability, a great product could get even better.

Updated on March 18, 2019: Added the latest rumors of the AirPods 2’s imminent release, backed up by today’s release of the latest iPads.