Massive AirPods upgrade featuring infrared camera coming in 2026

AirPods Pro 2
(Image credit: Mike Sawh)

A new report says Apple is planning to unveil new AirPods featuring infrared camera modules by 2026, in a move that could buoy its spatial computing ecosystem and sales of Apple Vision Pro

As reported by top insider Ming-Chi Kuo this weekend, "Apple plans to mass-produce new AirPods with camera modules by 2026, featuring an IR camera similar to the iPhone Face ID receiver." Kuo, a top supply chain sleuth with a history of Apple leaks, says that Foxconn, Apple's main supply chain partner, is laying the foundation to produce some 18-20 million units of the IR camera for around 10 million AirPods (one in each ear, of course). 

Kuo specifically says Apple's new AirPods will likely be used with Apple Vision Pro "and future Apple headsets to enhance the user experience of spatial audio and strengthen the spatial computing ecosystem." But what will they actually do?

2026 AirPods camera upgrade — explained

According to Kuo, the new IR camera fitted to AirPods could be used to detect head movements and adjust your audio accordingly, essentially giving a major hardware boost to Apple's spatial audio and existing head movement detection. Beyond audio, the IR camera will be able to detect "detect environmental image changes" which could "potentially" enable "in-air gesture control to enhance human-device interaction." That could improve Apple Vision Pro gestures and your control over visionOS, or could even pave the way for gesture controls on its best iPhones and beyond, headset or not. 

This isn't the first time we've heard that Apple is investigating AirPods with cameras. Back in February, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reports that Apple is planning sizeable upgrades to AirPods including built-in cameras, as well as AI and health sensor boosts. 

Certainly, the camera previously wasn't positioned as an infrared module, so while we might previously have been hoping for AirPods with some sort of secret spy cam, it looks like Apple is instead going to borrow some Face ID tech for a much more subtle, but still innovative upgrade. 

AirPods Pro 2 |$249$189 at Amazon

AirPods Pro 2 | $249 $189 at Amazon

Get Apple's best for less. They might not have a camera, but as just $199 these are the best AirPods you can buy from Apple right now. 

Price check: $229 at B&H Photo | $189 at Best Buy

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Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9