Apple AirPods 3 with noise-cancellation could be coming later this year

Apple is reportedly working on a set of AirPods that are water-resistant, according to Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives. The latest report builds on an earlier one from DigiTimes claiming that we could see a fresh set of Pods before the end of 2019 — and if history is to repeat itself, the launch will take place during the Cupertino, California firm’s annual September event.

In terms of what the AirPods 3 might bring to the table, there’s the rumored water-resistance, as well as several unspecified design enhancements. DigiTimes, on the other hand, has reported more information, noting that the AirPods will also come with noise-cancellation on board.

The real question is, if Apple is indeed working on a noise-cancellation function for the AirPods, how exactly would it work? AirPods have traditionally lacked sound isolation, meaning they simply sit in your ear and do not seal off any part of your ear canal. As such, Apple would need to alter the design to accommodate the new feature.

For passive noise isolation, earbuds need to effectively shield outside sounds from entering the ear. For active noise-cancellation, the AirPods would also require additional circuitry and possibly more microphones to produce the correct frequencies that neutralize exterior sounds. Once again, that means significant design updates.

And let’s not forget: Active noise-cancellation consumes additional power, so Apple would need to find a way to bake in a larger cell or develop some highly efficient software to extend the battery life. Sony’s new WF-1000XM3, for instance, get just 6 hours of battery life with noise canceling on, and up to 8 hours per charge with it off. That means there’s work to be done, considering the second-generation AirPods come in on the low side of acceptable at just 5 hours.

It’s no secret that Apple is researching various forms of noise-cancellation tech, though most of its exploration seems to be centered around over-ear headphones. In fact, earlier this year it applied for a patent on an active noise-cancellation system that gives wearers the option to control how much ambient sound enters their ears.

That’s not to say Apple isn’t looking at ways to apply the same technology to the AirPods, but considering the tight deadline it would need to meet to have units on the production line in time for the manufacturing cut-off, it seems unlikely the next AirPods will come with noise-cancellation, instead just bundling water-resistance.

Then again, Apple is no stranger to pulling off a big surprise.

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