Even though Apple just released its first update to the popular, fully wireless AirPods, and is also set to launch its first fully wireless PowerBeats earbuds, a new report from DigiTimes claims that we could see a third update to the AirPods before the end of 2019. The report goes on to say that the new buds will boast noise cancellation as their prime upgrade over the current AirPods.
Citing unnamed “industry sources” for the information, the report spends a lot of time discussing why Apple would want to make this move, while it offers almost no corroboration that Apple is in fact working on such a plan. “To meet challenges from rivals,” one industry source says, “Apple and its supply chain partners are looking to raise the bar by adding new features to AirPods 3, including the noise-cancellation function.” Similarly obvious observations are made throughout the report.
The real question is, if Apple is indeed working on a noise-cancellation function for the next AirPods, how exactly would that work? AirPods have traditionally been non-sound-isolating, meaning they simply sit in your ear, and do not seal off any part of your ear canal. For passive noise cancellation, earbuds need to effectively block outside sounds from entering the ear. For active noise cancellation (ANC), the earbuds would also need additional circuitry, and possibly more microphones, to produce the correct frequencies that neutralize exterior sounds. All of this is doable, but it would likely mean a change to the existing AirPods design. And given that active noise cancellation requires additional power, such a feature could potentially affect the AirPods’ battery life, which is already on the low side of acceptable at five hours.
We do know that Apple has been actively researching various forms of noise-cancellation technology, and earlier this year the company applied for a patent on an ANC system that would give headphone wearers a variety of options for controlling how much ambient sound enters their ears. That patent refers almost exclusively to “headphones,” but it’s possible Apple is also looking at ways to apply the same technology to a fully wireless earbud design, too.
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