Apple AirPods 2: Everything we know

Future Apple AirPods may use pressure sensors to tune sounds to your ears

apple airpods siri
Josh Edelson/Getty Images
Josh Edelson/Getty Images

Apple’s first-generation AirPods are, hands down, the best-selling true wireless in-ears on the market right now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in dire need of an update.

Siri is already in your home, in your pocket, and on your wrist, so why not in your ears as well? Apple’s wireless AirPods already let you summon the voice assistant by physically tapping them, but the next iteration of the in-ear device will allow you to simply say, “Hey Siri,” as you would with your phone. Not only that, but a patent suggests that the AirPods case could become a portable media player — basically an iPod Nano in disguise. And they may be waterproof, too! What won’t the next-generation AirPods 2 do? Read on to find out.

Features

Apple’s next-gen AirPods could include everything but the kitchen sink — heck, they could include a kitchen sink, too. A Bloomberg report from late June 2018 by Mark Gurman details Apple’s efforts to improve the next next-generation of AirPods by adding noise-cancellation and water resistance. Apple also wants to ensure that these AirPods (should we consider them the AirPods 3?) can work even when relatively far away from their companion smartphone or tablet. And while you won’t be able to jump into a pool wearing the AirPods, Apple hopes that you’ll be able to go on a long run (even in the rain) without having to worry about sweat or precipitation damaging them.

Apple also is considering biometric functionality, such as a heart rate monitor. Such functionality would clearly come at an increased cost, Gurman noted.

The voice-control feature is currently being worked on for the next generation of the AirPods, Bloomberg reported in February, an update that is internally known as B288. Voice activation won’t be the only new part of the upcoming AirPods either, as they will include an updated, Apple-designed chip for handling Bluetooth connections. The original AirPods included the W1 chip, while the most recent Apple Watch used the W2. It’s not clear if these new AirPods will use a brand-new chip, or an updated W2.

Apple has also patented a new form of pressure sensing that will help the headphones determine the size and shape of a users’ ear, thereby allowing them to tune the sound of the headphones to each individual wearer. Whether or not this tech will appear on the next generation or future generations of Apple AirPods remains to be seen.

Wireless charging

Images leaked in July 2018 revealed what appears to be Apple’s wireless charging case for the AirPods 2 — and it looks a lot like the current case, save for a tiny dot of color. The images, discovered in the release of the iOS 12 developer beta 5 by 9to5Mac, appear to indicate charging status. A green light presumably indicates that the devices are ready to rock, while a yellow light signals that the earbuds are actively charging. This supports information we’ve been hearing  for a while: Apple plans to incorporate some form of wireless charging feature into the AirPod case.

A patent filed by Apple earlier in the year adds legitimacy to those early rumors that the company would release some form of a wireless-charging AirPod case, alongside a potential wireless-charging mat, sometime in March. Illustrations in the patent show what appear to be a case that looks remarkably similar to the AirPod case we’re already familiar with, but with the inclusion of wireless power receivers designed to interface with a charging pad. The literature and further illustrations detail the technology within the case and the wireless-charging methodology.

It’s possible this is simply a new case for existing AirPods, but it bolsters the belief that a new version of the fully wireless earbuds is imminent.

Portable playback

A future generation of the Airpods could also feature a case that acts as a stand-alone playback device. According to a patent filed by Apple, the company has devised a case that has built-in storage and playback controls, plus the ability to play audio through its charging port.

This isn’t the first time a company has added audio storage and playback capabilities to a charging case for fully wireless earbuds — we’ve already seen similar tech from Bragi — but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a big addition to Apple’s headphones. If paired up with Apple Music and a set of the company’s rumored sweatproof wireless earbuds, the addition of offline storage could mean that users won’t have to bring a bulky smartphone with them to their workouts. There’s already a portable player called the Mighty that allows users to listen to competing streaming service Spotify offline, but if Apple builds theirs into the actual charging case of a pair of fully wireless headphones, it could make for a very nifty stand-alone workout accessory.

A new look?

Speaking of patents, a pair of other patent filings suggest that we could see a refreshed design for its wireless buds — if not in the next generation, then in the rumored, water-resistant future model. The images associated with the first filing show an in-ear headphone that more closely resembles competitors like Jabra’s Elite 65t and Bragi’s The Headphone. It ditches the long, cylindrical sections that hang out of listeners’ ears on the current-generation AirPods. The patent images also show three different potential designs for sports fins to keep the headphones secure.

The second patent details the internal circuitry and communication technology for potential iterations of the AirPod, and both patents also mention the addition of other sensors, such as biometrics, accelerometers, and a pulse oximeter, which suggests that a future AirPod iteration could be explicitly designed for sports, much like Jabra’s Elite Sport.

Price and release date

The big question: When will we see Apple’s next-gen AirPods? It’s anyone’s guess at this point. We frequently hear and report on rumors about what is happening inside the walls of Apple’s Cupertino, California-based headquarters, but often those rumors are just that — and eager fans are left cooling their heels while waiting for something new. We thought the company would release the headphones at its fall 2018 product events, but Apple was oddly tight-lipped about any new AirPod models.

Acclaimed Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has correctly predicted a vast assortment of Apple product updates over the years, claims an updated version of the AirPods will be available in 2019, with a larger update scheduled for 2020.

At this point, we have every reason to expect to see new AirPods at some point in 2019, as Apple recently got mandatory Bluetooth SIG certification for a new AirPod model.

Recent leaks also place the new model in production, with one Twitter user posting photos of what they claim are the new AirPods. The photos appear to show devices that are identical to the current models, so we can’t confirm that they are AirPods 2 models.

What the new AirPods will cost is also anybody’s guess, though we hope that Apple won’t abandon the $150 price point, as it makes the company very competitive in the current market. For his part, Kuo says the enhanced features like potential heart rate monitoring, wireless charging, and a better Bluetooth chip may mean that Apple’s popular accessory goes up in price.

Continued domination

Whether or not these updated models arrive as planned, it’s a given that we will see some of them eventually, considering the current AirPods are selling like hotcakes. Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, has said that wearables are the second-largest contributor to the company’s revenue, after the iPhone, and that sales in that category have jumped by 70 percent.

The idea of updated AirPods isn’t bad for consumers either. While we called them the best fully wireless earbuds available at the time of our review, we did still have some issues with them. If Apple finds a way to help them stay in your ears a little better and bumps up the sound quality, while increasing the already fantastic battery life and wireless reliability, a great product could get even better.

Updated on December 20, 2018: Noted a new patent for pressure-sensing technology that would allow the company to detect the shape of users’ ears.

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