How Apple Could Improve the Next AirPods

There’s plenty left to add

Key Takeaways

  • Rumors say AirPods 3 could arrive in the first half of 2021.
  • The new AirPods could look a lot like the current AirPods Pro.
  • Apple may be using bone conduction, but not how you think.
Apple AirPods 3 concept image; this is how they might look.

Apple’s AirPods are absurdly popular, seen in all kinds of ears, every time you take a walk or ride the subway. So, what could Apple possibly do to make the next version even better, even more popular?

The rumors—and the inevitable march of progress—say that AirPods 3 are due any time now. Some of these rumors, from semi-reliable Chinese site 52 Audio, say that Apple’s next-gen wireless earbuds will adopt many features of the AirPods Pro, maybe even a noise-canceling function. So, what could Apple add to the AirPods to improve them?

"Having a smaller stem on the wireless design without compromising the quality would be a good start," CocoSign co-founder Caroline Lee told Lifewire via email, "and we still haven’t heard anything about waterproofing or water resistance."

AirPod Rumors

According to 52 Audio, the next-gen AirPods will look like a cross between the current AirPods and the AirPods Pro. The shafts will shorten, and will use the Pro’s pressure-sensitive controls, where you squeeze the shaft to play, pause, skip, and invoke Siri.

They also appear to have enlarged infrared detector windows, to check whether they’re in your ears or not, along with detachable tips, which should make sizing easier for big and small ears. 

Also changed is the charging case, which goes from a vertical format to landscape, again mimicking the Pro's.

Adding all these Pro features makes the AirPods Pro, themselves, seem much less appealing, but it’s also possible that Apple will upgrade those soon, too.

"Having a smaller stem on the wireless design without compromising the quality would be a good start."

A similar situation exists in the iPad lineup right now. The iPad Pro, with tech dating back to 2018, is barely better than the iPad Air. The Air has a faster A14 processor, fits the same accessories as the Pro, and is cheaper. But the iPad Pro redesign may come as soon as spring, with an improved mini-LED screen.

With that in mind, what’s left to add to the AirPods and AirPods Pro?

Noise Canceling

The obvious addition for the regular AirPods is noise-canceling, just like the Pros. By using microphones inside and outside the ear, the AirPods Pro mixes a phase-reversed version of the ambient noise into the speaker.

This cancels noise, which not only makes it easier to hear your music, but also lets you keep the volume lower, protecting your ears. 

AirPods Pro also have a "transparency" mode, which mixes a little of the outside sound back in, so you can hear what’s going on.

This is miraculous, and way better than attempts from other headphone makers. The levels are perfectly balanced, so it seems like the outside world has just been turned down.

Bone Conduction

Bone conduction is an established technology that sends vibrations to the ear through the skull. It’s usually used for listening—in hearing aids, or specialized headphones, where it has the advantage of being audible in loud environments, and not blocking your ears. 

Someone wearing Apple Airpods while outside with a blurred cityscape in the background.
South_agency / Getty Images

Apple may use it differently. AirPods could compare vibrations coming through your head while you speak with the sound of your voice in the regular mic.

It could use this to pick up your voice clearly, even in very noisy environments. Based on supply chain analysis, it looks like this feature could actually be coming. Although perhaps it might only be in the Pro model?

Better Sound

The AirPods Pro sound way better than the regular AirPods, and a lot of that is down to the fit. You can select from three sizes of silicone tips, and use the Ear Tip Fit Test, built into the iPhone, to find out which fit best. 

The regular AirPods sound much like the old wired EarPods, which weren't bad. But an improvement would be welcome, and given its work on the HomePods and the AirPods Max, Apple is clearly doing great when it comes to improving sound through live computer processing. 

One request: make some alternative, bigger silicone tips available for people who need them. Asking for a friend. 

Spatial Audio

Spatial audio is a neat gimmick that can place audio in 3D space around you. If you turn your head to the left when watching a movie on your iPad, for example, spatial audio will make it seem like the sound is now coming from the right, tying it to the iPad.

Someone wearing AirPods while participating in a video conference from a home office.
damircudic / Getty Images

This is Pro-only right now, but seems like an easy addition for the regular line.

Other great additions would be waterproofing, better volume control from the AirPods themselves, and maybe some new color options. 

AirPods are a real hit for Apple, so expect it to really focus on keeping them ahead of the pack. One way to do that is to keep expanding the line, as with the AirPods Max. Another is to keep making the regular AirPods as amazing as possible.

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