Wait — where were the new AirPods at Apple’s latest event?

Another Apple event has come and gone. And it was a good one. We got a stylish new Apple Watch Series 7. We got updated WatchOS software that makes the new watch a must-have for cyclists. We got a refreshed iPad and (perhaps more important) iPad Mini. We got the iPhone 13, plus its Mini and Pro versions. We got some cool stuff coming to Apple Fitness+.

What we did not get was anything remotely resembling AirPods, rumor mill be damned.

Whether that’s surprising depends on a few things. It depends on whether you enjoy hypebeasting. It depends on whether you took at face value the headlines that were sure the AirPods 3 (or really, just the third-generation AirPods) were coming. (And that includes our own headlines.)

Apple iPhone 13 Pro low-light sample image.
Squint hard enough at this lowlight sample image from an iPhone 13 Pro and you still can’t see new AirPods. Apple

Here’s the thing, though. AirPods are huge. OK, they’re tiny, but they’re a big deal for Apple. AirPods (and AirPods Pro and AirPods Max) all get lumped in with the “Wearables, Home and Accessories” category on the Apple earnings sheet. And that category raked in $8.77 billion in the three months ending June 26, 2021 — up about $2.325 billion from the previous quarter. The past nine months of earnings in that category are up nearly $7 billion from the same nine-month period in 2020. It’s a big space, with a lot of money at stake. Some of that is watches, of course. But a good chunk of it most definitely is AirPods. And that category is only going to continue to grow.

And now that Apple has a pretty fleshed-out audio line, it’s not at all surprising to see the September event eschew the little white buds now so they can have their own event later. Or, more likely, as part of some audio-focused event. Earbuds. Headphones. HomePod.

It’s not like there was a dearth of news and new products this week. It’s not like we turned off the virtual event on September 14 and said: “Well, that was pretty disappointing.” New iPhones and iPads and watches (oh, my) should be more than enough to keep us satiated for a few weeks.

Make no mistake about it — new AirPods will come at some point. They’ll be better in some way, either in tech, or in price. They’ll maybe fill a price point that the current AirPods ($160) and AirPods Pro ($250) will bracket. Or maybe they’ll undercut things and hit that $99 sweet spot. (Or maybe they’ll replace the existing second-generation AirPods, and relegate that SKU to the budget model.)

It’s also going to help keep the Apple rumor mill churning. Product marketing is also about scheduling, and Apple is one of the best at both, keeping excitement up practically all year long. Now that the dust is settling on this event, we can turn to the next one.

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