How to customize the AirPods Pro controlsSource: Rene Ritchie / iMore

The most we've heard recently about Apple's next generation of AirPods mostly pertains to its rumored over-ear headphones, the AirPods Studio. There are however rumors that Apple will soon debut new buds in its AirPods lineup, upgrading both the Pro and regular versions of the device.

Here's what we know about what could be coming to the third-generation AirPods and second-generation AirPods Pro.

The short list

  • Release date: First half of 2021 (AirPods), Second half of 2021 (AirPods Pro) (rumor)
  • Price: $159 and up (AirPods 3, rumor), $249 (AirPods Pro 2, speculation)
  • New features: AirPods Pro-like design (AirPods 3, rumor), health monitoring features (AirPods Pro 2, rumor)
  • Colors: White (speculated)

AirPod Pro-style design

Air Pods Pro on stageSource: Rene Ritchie / iMore

This just might be the year of Apple's "Pro" designs trickling down to the mainstream, first with the iPad, then with the AirPods. While the first- and second-generation AirPods look like wireless versions of Apple's wired EarPod earphones, the third-generation AirPods are said to take after the Pro variant.

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The AirPods Pro are closer to more traditional earbuds rather than the earphone style of the current standard AirPods. They feature silicon tips that go into your ear, offer better stability and noise isolation, on top of the active noise cancellation (ANC) that's also built-in.

The most recent rumor from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says that Apple will update its AirPods to reflect the design of the AirPods Pro, with smaller stems and replaceable ear tips.

When it comes to AirPods Pro, Gurman says that Apple hops to eliminate the stem completely and push out a more rounded shape.

Active noise cancellation

Lory GilSource: iMore

So, if the AirPods 3 are getting an AirPods Pro-style redesign, are they also get AirPods Pro-style ANC? According to recent rumors, no, ANC will remain AirPods Pro-only for now.

It's easy to see why. ANC is still often used as a premium feature in many headphones, and if Apple plans on keeping the AirPods Pro around, it's likely that the company will keep that feature for the higher-end models.

Instead, AirPods 3 owners will likely have to settle for noise isolation, which, if the AirPods take on the design of the AirPods Pro, should actually be pretty reliable. From experience, I can say that, while the passive noise isolation of the AirPods Pro isn't the best I've ever used, it's better than serviceable, as long as you're using the correct ear tips.

Health and safety features

AirPods on iPhone XSSource: iMore

Rumors indicate that Apple is working on AirPods with light sensors that read biometric data from within your ear. These sensors would reportedly allow Apple to gather data on the wearer's blood oxygen level.

But will these sensors appear in the next-generation AirPods? It's hard to say. The rumors earlier this year indicated that these models of AirPods were one to two years away, which, while fitting within a supposed launch window of spring 2021, seems a little soon for the standard AirPods line.

What seems likely is that, if these sensors are ready to go and Apple is happy with their impact on the already-short battery life of the AirPods, then we might see these sensors make an appearance in the second-generation AirPods Pro first. It would make a lot of sense for Apple to debut advanced features in its higher-end products first, which eventually filter down to the rest of the line.

A recent patent points to another new feature that might be coming to AirPods: automatic volume adjustment. If Apple implements the technology in this patent, AirPods would be able to change their volume based on potential hazards around you automatically. On AirPods with audio transparency, this would also likely meaning turning that feature on.

Given that the patent was just granted, it's likely to be a little while before we see this feature (if we ever do), but it's something to watch out for with new AirPods models.

Price

There's not a lot of information out there yet about the potential price of AirPods 3. That could be because nobody knows or has heard anything, or it could be because Apple is keeping the starting price at the same $159 that AirPods have had from the beginning.

Assuming Apple keeps its current AirPods pricing plan, then we're likely also to see another price point for AirPods 3: $199. This would be the price of AirPods with a wireless charging case, assuming Apple doesn't just make wireless charging a standard part of this new generation of AirPods.

As for AirPod Pro, those seem likely to stick to Apple's $249 price point for the foreseeable future. While some find that to be a bit much, Apple's probably happy with how the current AirPods Pro has sold at that price point.

Release date

It is rumored Apple will release new AirPods in the first half of 2021 and it's been suggested new AirPods Pro will follow in the second half of the year.

Apple announcement incoming

It's unlikely given the 2021 release date that Apple will announce anything about either of these products until next year.