Apple’s 4th-generation AirPods and 3rd-gen AirPods launch is approaching, and a major leak has revealed some new details about the next version of the company’s hugely popular wireless earbuds. These include new health features (covering both hearing and body temperature monitoring) and a switch from Lightning to USB-C.
The leaker-analyst Mark Gurman focused on the next generation of AirPods in the latest edition of his Power On newsletter, and while some elements have been mentioned before by Gurman and others, the article is a useful summation with some new tidbits and further detail in certain areas.
We already know, for example, that Apple is deeply interested in hearing health and how AirPods can help with this. It’s been shown that current AirPods Pro models can double as cheap hearing aids, and the Conversation Boost feature was launched years ago.
More recently, Gurman himself said in an earlier edition of Power On that hearing health would be the next area for AirPods innovation. But at the time this was comparatively vague, mentioning the “ability to get hearing data of some sort.” The new report expands on this considerably. There will be, Gurman predicts, a “new hearing test feature that will play different tones and sounds to allow the AirPods to determine how well a person can hear. The idea is to help users screen for hearing issues.” In other words, as well as serving as an effective hearing aid, the next AirPods will be able to flag up potential hearing loss earlier so it can be treated more effectively.
A separate health function Apple is looking to add to the AirPods is body temperature measurement. Again, this is an area we already know is of interest to the company, whose most recent Apple Watches are designed to measure body temperature via the wrist for fertility tracking and overall well-being, but the ear canal is a better and more accurate source of such data. Apple is accordingly working on adding a temperature sensor to a future set of AirPods, Gurman says, although this may not be ready for the fourth generation.
What will be here in time for the next model is the widely predicted switch from Lightning to USB-C on the case charging port. This makes sense since Apple is strongly expected to make the same transition on the iPhone starting in late 2023. However, while Gurman has previously said he expects all three AirPods models to move to USB-C by the end of 2023, he’s now signaling that the company may be prepared to wait a little longer for the non-standard models; the AirPods Pro, he says, will stick to their current release cadence, which means the next model, presumably based on a USB-C connection, isn’t likely to arrive until the fall of 2025. It’s unclear whether a new case will be rolled out before then as with the MagSafe case in 2021.
Finally, the idea that Apple will look at cutting the price of its cheapest AirPods, aired again in the new report, has been knocking around for years. They have generally been referred to as the AirPods Lite and are expected to compete with sub-$100 earbuds.
The current (standard) AirPods launched in October 2021, and while Apple refreshes its headphones less frequently than its phones, tablets, and laptops, work will be well underway for the sequel to this highly successful product. A glance at Apple’s AirPods release history (September 2016, March 2019, then October 2021) would suggest that the next standard edition of Apple’s wireless earbuds is likely to arrive in or close to the spring of 2024.
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