The Apple AirPods are ripe for a refresh in 2019, if only because these truly wireless in-ear headphones are approaching their third year on shelves without a single hardware revision. From where Apple is sitting, it’s easy to see why it has waited this long to release a new version. There are now several truly wireless headphones on the market — good ones, even — but new options like the Samsung Galaxy Buds are only now beginning to tread on the AirPods’ biggest selling point: simplicity. AirPods are recognized by iPhones and iPads when you flip its case open, and they play nicely on macOS computers, too, where we’ve seen many Bluetooth headphones falter.
The AirPods’ design got a lot right back in 2016, and you can read our reviews to see why we like them. But now, it’s Apple’s turn to make a move again. Based on the rumors we’ve seen, Apple’s next AirPods will focus on new features to win over the remaining holdouts who still use the wired, Lightning-connected EarPods that come with a new iPhone.
The AirPods 2 will release within the first half of 2019, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a reliable track record on Apple products in development. For instance, Kuo accurately predicted the display specs and pricing of the iPhone XR close to a year before its unveiling. Some rumors also indicate that Apple may be working on a more premium AirPods 2 model for release in 2019 that offers water resistance and noise cancellation.
Apple will reportedly host an event on March 25th, 2019, which is near the end of the first quarter, but don’t get too excited: it’s said to be services-focused, centered on Apple’s TV streaming plans or its Apple News subscription service, not on hardware. Apple has been known for having a card up its sleeve at its events, so it’s possible that the AirPods 2 could get a surprise announcement.
The current AirPods are $159, but a report from Bloomberg states that the next-gen AirPods may cost more. It also mentions that Apple may offer multiple AirPods models at different pricing tiers, similar to how it sells its other products. As far as how Apple will distinguish the models, it’s still murky. We expect better audio performance and build quality across the second-generation wireless headphone line. Hands-free voice commands and the ability to charge wirelessly seem like they will be standard as well, and rumors suggest that Apple may introduce a high-end model that costs even more, with noise cancellation, water resistance, and health-monitoring features.
Are the AirPods fashionable? The verdict is mixed for various Verge staffers, but Apple’s headphone design hasn’t changed much (sans cutting the cord) since they were introduced with the original iPod, and the AirPods 2 will likely keep a similar form. Rumors don’t point to an overhaul, though a recent tidbit from MacRumors claims that an Apple hardware supplier is making the next AirPods in a new black color option, and that it may add a matte texture to the AirPods, which would help them stay put in your ears.
It’s no secret that Apple has plans for AirPods that charge wirelessly. It showed AirPods charging on top of the delayed AirPower charging pad at one of its 2017 events, but AirPods that can charge wirelessly might have a slightly bigger case in order to fit a Qi charging coil, according to a rumor from 9to5Mac. But otherwise, wireless charging shouldn’t change the way they look.
Sometimes, pulling out your phone isn’t the easiest or safest thing to do, and for AirPods owners, being able to yell “Hey Siri” to place calls and perform other tasks would be a good feature to have.
Back in January, the iOS 12.2 beta included a “Hey Siri” setup interface for hands-free commands on AirPods, which is a stronger indication than most that Apple plans to incorporate this feature into its headphones at some point.
When Apple announced the AirPower wireless charging mat, it showed a set of AirPods charging on it, cable-free. It’s unclear if the product shown are the new AirPods 2, or a case for the original model that’s compatible with wireless chargers. But since the AirPower is still a no-show, allegedly due in part to an overheating issue, this may have also caused a delay for either of those products.
The latest rumors from late 2018 indicate that the AirPods 2 will have wireless charging support, but it’s not clear if it’s the earpieces can be charged by being placed on a wireless charger, or if you’ll need a compatible case to do it.
In January, we heard that the AirPower charging mat may have entered production and may be released soon. Given that the AirPods 2 are predicted by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo to release before the end of the first half of 2019, Apple may take the opportunity to release the AirPower mat as well to highlight the feature. According to a recent rumor from 9To5Mac, albeit one which the publication states comes from an unreliable source, the next AirPods may even be able to charge fully via wireless charging in 15 minutes.
Adding water resistance to any product provides peace of mind, in case you drop them in a drink or a puddle. It’d be great if the next AirPods were water-resistant, since having them fall out of your ears is a concern for some people — including my colleague Sean O’Kane, who reviewed the AirPods. Water resistance might also help if you drop them in a toilet, but it won’t do much to help you forget that you, you know, dropped them in a toilet.
One of the earliest rumors pointed to the next AirPods receiving some form of water resistance. Each subsequent rumor since has made a mention of water resistance being included in the new hardware, which, by itself, won’t will it into existence, but it suggests that it might be true. It’s unclear if water resistance will be a standard feature, or if it’ll be reserved for a more premium version.
Noise cancellation is the feature that blocks out the ambiance around you: the crying baby, the loud clatter of the train, the person chewing noisily across the table. Whether you’re trying to concentrate, get some rest, or just focus on the music or podcast you’re listening to, it’s a useful feature. According to a report from Bloomberg in mid-2018, Apple was planning to introduce the AirPods 2 with a noise cancellation feature. Bloomberg’s expected 2018 release window has come and gone, but, similar to the rumored water resistance feature, noise cancellation gets a mention in most rumors concerning Apple’s next AirPods.
In the same report, Bloomberg mentions that Apple could segment the product at multiple price points, and since noise cancellation is generally regarded as a premium feature, and one that’s not commonly found within the truly wireless headphone competition, it’s possible that it could be reserved for a high-end model.
Apple introduced a few health-monitoring features in its Apple Watch Series 4, a smartwatch that obtained FDA clearance to notify you if it detects an irregular heart rhythm using an electrocardiogram (EKG). Apple might save its boldest health-tracking ambitions for your wrist for the time being, but a January 2019 report from Bloomberg stated that Apple was exploring a health-monitoring feature for the next-generation AirPods as well, and DigiTimes recently reported that such a feature will appear within the first half of 2019.
The rumors don’t divulge what we may see in the final product — whether it’s a sensor to track your steps, or to monitor your heart rate, for example — but more tracking means more sensors, and more sensors may require more of the very precious real estate that exists within the design of the tiny AirPods. Aside from rumors that Apple may make a few minor tweaks to the look and feel of its next AirPods, it will be working against some tough design constraints to fit even more features inside. We’ll see what happens when they release, but a rumor like this makes the wait even more exciting.