The arrival of the Apple AirPods Pro 2 was something of a momentous moment. After years of trying and quite a few four stars for its in-ear AirPods line, Apple finally delivered a genuine sonic competitor within the wireless earbud arena. The five-star flagship AirPods Pro 2 were a huge leap in performance, giving best-in-class competitors such as the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II serious cause for concern.
What Apple can't afford to do now, however, is rest on its laurels. It's one thing to climb that mountain, it's quite another thing to stay camped at the top. The wireless earbuds market is one of the most competitive in all of audio, with Sony (now with its new WF-1000XM5), Bose and Sennheiser all placing their respective flags in the ground atop this particular summit.
How does Apple protect the territory it has fought so hard to establish? The AirPods Pro 2 may have been five-star performers, but they weren't perfect, meaning there are certain design points, features and specs we'd love to see when the Pro 3 finally arrive.
We've collated all of the rumours currently circulating regarding the potential release of the upcoming AirPods Pro 3, and compiled our own wishlist of what we'd like to see when the white-clad buds finally land in stores.
Apple AirPods Pro 3: release date speculation
If Apple's release schedule pattern is all we have to go on regarding the debut of the AirPods Pro 3, we can make some educated guesses as to when the next iteration will arrive. The first generation landed in late 2019, and it took nearly three years (late 2022) before we saw a follow-up courtesy of the five-star AirPods Pro 2.
According to a macrumours.com post from earlier this year, the third generation of the AirPods Pro could be arriving as late as 2025 judging by Apple's general release cycle and that the company may be focusing first on its rumoured budget Lite model or a new iteration of the five-star AirPods Max over-ears. Apple usually cycles between the base model, the Pro and then the over-ear Max headphones, so it would be something of a change in routine for new Pros to arrive before a new pair of the AirPods Max.
In fact, most outlets and rumour sites cite the company's general release schedule for its main AirPods models as being evidence for the Max receiving a new iteration before the Pro 3. Ever-reliable Twitter (we know it's changed its name) stalwart Ming-Chi Kuo posited on social media that the Pro wouldn't arrive until late 2024 or early 2025, just about in keeping with the predictions above.
Apple AirPods Pro 3: price prediction
At the time of their release, the current AirPods Pro 2 would set you back £249 / $249 / AU$399, although prices have dropped a little since then thanks to the buds' age and a few good deals at places like Amazon.
We've no reason to suspect that prices will rise significantly, with most insiders and outlets agreeing that, in the US at least, the Pro 3 will stay at around that price point.
There were hints that the AirPods Max could see a price cut from their rather substantial £549 / $549 price tag. Some, such as Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, even speculated that Apple could drop the cost for the second generation to either $500 / $449, and while this feels a little unlikely, it could be good news for Pro fans if Apple decided to start cutting its prices rather than inflating them.
Conversely, the fact that Sony raised the price of its new WF-1000XM5 model over the previous XM4s, there's no reason why Apple shouldn't feel comfortable doing the same. That said, the AirPods Pro 2 cost the same as the original Pro model, so here's hoping that attitude continues into the third generation.
Apple AirPods Pro 3: new design and USB-C charging?
While the AirPods Pro 2 distinguished themselves a lot from their predecessors in terms of internal hardware and sonic performance, externally they were almost identical. As we stated in our review, "place the two generations of AirPods Pro side by side and they’re effectively indistinguishable".
It's likely, then, that the Pro 3 will look almost the same as the Pro 2, even if the hardware they pack is (potentially) bolstered by the introduction of a new H3 chip, say. We expect similarly positioned vents, a bud-and-stem design and touch-capacitive controls, as well as a smooth white charging case in which the buds will snugly nestle. Anything radical in design, such as the Pro 3 suddenly adopting Sony's rounded form, seems off the cards.
Will we see new colours introduced? In short, it's very unlikely. Apple introduced a few new hues for its AirPods Max over-ears, but that's a different world to that of its now-iconic in-ears. Pure white is what you expect from AirPods, and that's likely just what you'll get.
What there has been a lot of talk about is companies transitioning over to USB-C charging as opposed to either micro-USB or Lightning, with recent reports also linking Apple to a switch to the more efficient and powerful charging format.
According to macrumours.com, the release of a new USB-C AirPods Pro charging case would debut alongside the launch of the iPhone 15, the latter of which would also opt for the USB-C port rather than the established Lightning aperture in accordance with new EU regulations. Third-generation aside, expect the current Pro model to receive the USB-C upgrade in the meantime to coincide with the iPhone 15's launch.
The same change is what we're thus expecting for the AirPods Pro 3, especially if the established models and their hardware are made compatible with the upgrade. If true, it's likely a better fit for Apple and its products, even if some have voiced concerns over the USB-C's fragility in comparison to the established Lightning connector. We might not expect the Pro 3 to strike out into new aesthetic grounds, but we'd be very surprised if they didn't follow suit in adopting the USB-C format, especially with pressure from international regulations.
Apple AirPods Pro 3: five improvements we'd like to see
Following a full five-star rating for the AirPods Pro 2 and with Apple currently looking to enhance its product ecosystem with a raft of new hardware and software innovations, what can the AirPods Pro 3 do to push themselves further into the realms of true wireless greatness?
1. Higher-quality Bluetooth codec support
One of the big disappointments of the AirPods 2 was their lack of any high-quality codec support over Bluetooth, especially for hi-res audio playback. The Pro 2 lags behind the competition by only supporting basic AAC, denying them the flexibility of aptX HD or Sony's LDAC codecs that allows for more audio data streamed from compatible sources. When we spoke to Apple's audio designer regarding the Pro 2, he stated: "We don't think that the codec currently is the limitation of audio quality on Bluetooth products."
While the AirPods 2 do admittedly sound great, there's no getting around it: this is still an issue that needs rectifying, especially as Apple Music itself offers its vast music library in 24-bit lossless ALAC quality. Being able to hear that higher quality through the AirPods would no doubt be a boon.
2. More features, longer battery, better Android support
Battery life is the perennial concern of the wireless community, and while six hours from a single charge was good, it doesn't yet compete with the Sony WF-1000XM5's impressive eight. More features are a must, and we'd love to see the integration of something similar to Sony's 'Speak to Chat’ function that pauses or quietens music when speaking. Even better, offering more iOS-only features to Android devices and users, such as head-tracking spatial audio or the Find My function, would be a huge cross-platform boost.
Mark Gurman of Bloomberg has also posited the addition of many high-tech health-tracking features for future AirPod generations, including the Pro line, yet it's unclear how soon these will be implemented. Using the AirPods as a hearing aid, detecting body temperature via your ear canal, sleep and fertility tracking, all have been tabled across the Apple rumour mill. Let's wait and see...
3. Supreme sound quality
As much as we loved the sound of the second-gen AirPods Pro, we want to see that super sound go up a notch. The recent debut of the Sony WF-1000XM5 has revealed almost unprecedented levels of detail from a pair of true wireless buds, while Bose's QuietComfort II continue to impress sonically. Sony has shown it can improve upon a five-star performer with new driver, new processor and elevated sound tuning – surely Apple can do the same, too?
4. Bose-bothering active noise cancelling
The current Pro model has seriously impressive ANC thanks to a combination of the powerful H2 chip and some ‘optimised’ re-positioning of the acoustic vents and mics. Still, as we noted in our review, we weren't "quite as cocooned in silence as our new benchmark in flagship ANC earbuds, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II". That, then, is the benchmark the third generation must reach to improve the ANC effect. Aim high, Apple.
5. Customisable ANC
We loved the introduction of the Pro 2's Adaptive Transparency mode which helps dampen sudden loud and harsh noises (perfect for the screeching London Underground). What we would like is any way to customise or adjust the level of ANC, whether that adapts automatically to your location or surroundings or lets you control it manually via your phone.
Apple announced a new Adaptive Audio hybrid listening feature at WWDC 2023 that offers a mix of transparency mode and ANC, similar to what we've seen in the QuietComfort Earbuds already, so we're interested to see how that's potentially implemented when Pro 3 arrive. WWDC 2023 also saw the debut of "Conversational Awareness" mode for dropping your music down automatically whenever you start talking, a feature that could be an Apple-made alternative to Sony's 'Speak to Chat' function (see above).
We're excited to see what Apple can do with the next generation of the AirPods Pro line. We were so impressed with the vast improvements the Cupertino company managed when the second generation arrived and blew their predecessors out of the water, and we're desperate to see similar strides made when the Pro 3 take centre stage.
Competition at this price is absolutely fierce, so Apple needs to bring its A-game to ensure loyal fans and customers aren't left disappointed. The introduction of new hardware, such as an upgraded H3 Apple chip, might be a good place to start to ensure that the Pro 3 have better sound and ANC, but also greater support for more innovative features, too.
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