The AirPods are extremely popular products, so it seems bizarre that Apple leaves it so long between updates. The standard AirPods also went two and a half years between their second edition in March 2019 and the third in October 2021 (you may be interested to read our 2021 AirPods review). Could Apple make fans wait even longer for the new AirPods Pro?
In this article, we take a look at how Apple will evolve the AirPods Pro line-up in 2022, and examine the release date, price, tech specs, design changes and new features of the upcoming models.
When will the new AirPods Pro be released?
We expect the next version of the AirPods Pro to launch in the fall of 2022: likely September or October.
That's pushing towards a three-year gap between generations, and we'd love to get new Pros before then. But they didn't appear at Apple's Peek Performance spring event on March 8, and the consensus is that they won't be announced in the summer either.
For one thing, nearly all AirPods have been fall launches (March 2019 was the one exception). And pundits and leakers have been lining up to pour cold water on the idea of a spring/summer launch.
Twitter user FrontTron, for instance, agrees that we will be waiting until fall 2022. The tech leaker indicates that the release has been pushed back from an expected second-quarter launch to the fall:
It is not known whether FrontTron (or his source if there is one) is reliable. But FrontTron's prediction was backed up by another Apple leaker, @dylandkt, who tweeted on January 23, 2022 that the AirPod Pro update won't come until fall:
And if you think fall 2022 is a long wait, it's possible we'll have to be even more patient. Widely respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes Apple will launch the second-gen AirPods Pro in the fourth quarter of 2022. Apple may have planned a launch earlier in the year, but the new AirPods Pro are facing delays due to global component shortages and COVID-related restrictions.
New AirPods Pro price
Price-wise, we expect the new AirPods Pro to cost $249, but that's speculation: no concrete information concerning price has yet been released.
The current model is $249, but it's frequently on sale. The new Beats Fit Pro retail for $200, so it's likely Apple will keep the AirPods Pro at $249 to separate the models. Apple technically reduced the price of the 3rd-gen AirPods to $179 (the 2nd-gen model with the wireless charging case was $199) but eliminated the lower-cost option with the wired case.
For comparison, here's the pricing for the current range of AirPods on the Apple Store:
- AirPods 2nd generation: $129 / £119 / AU$219
- AirPods 3rd generation: $179 / £169 / AU$279
- AirPods Pro: $249 / £239 / AU$399
- AirPods Max: $549 / £549 / AU$899
The AirPods Pro cost $70 more than the AirPods. Is Apple likely to maintain that gap? We think so. We do hope to see the price of the AirPods Max fall, though.
Note that the current AirPods Pro model is likely to disappear when the new one comes out, rather than sticking around with a price cut. A tweet by an account claiming to be that of Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple has trimmed AirPods 3 production by more than 30 percent. As a result, Apple will likely discontinue the current AirPods Pro instead of keeping it available as a lower-priced alternative.
With the AirPods receiving a redesign in 2021, we assume that the AirPods Pro will change in order for the differences between the two types of AirPods to be clear.
There is some evidence that this will be the case: Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, for example, believes that the new AirPods Pro will have no stems, in a radical step. He said in a May 2021 report that the new AirPods Pro may not feature shafts, following a similar design to the Beats Studio Buds or the Beats Fit Pro.
We're actually big fans of the current design, although we have a few reservations about the charging case: it's harder to get the Pros out than was the case with the previous models, and the hinge feels less robust. (The hinge sits along the longer edge because the Pro models are shorter and wider than before.) Perhaps Apple could tweak the case design in lieu of major changes to the earbuds themselves.
It's also been claimed that the new AirPods Pro will come in two sizes for the first time. This prediction is based on leaked components, and was made via a tweet by Mr White:
He referred to the image as W-chips, but it's actually the H-chips that feature in the AirPods so we assume that's a mistake. The components that feature in the leaked images come in two different sizes, suggesting that Apple may have two sizes of next-gen AirPods Pro in the works. (It appears that Mr White has since deleted the tweet, though it's unclear whether that means it was wrong or just ruffled the wrong feathers.)
Another top request for the new AirPods Pro is a choice of more sizes of ear tips so users can ensure they get the perfect fit. Currently Apple only offers three sizes: small, medium or large. Buy AirPods Pro Ear Tips here.
It's feasible that we could see a new color option when the next set of AirPods Pro is launched. It would be unusual for Apple to get this far into a product line without offering at least two colors. The AirPod Max, indeed, get five: Space Gray, Silver, Pink, Green, and Sky Blue.
Space Gray (or another variant on black or dark gray) is probably the most likely. And speaking of new colors… according to Gurman, Apple may launch new color options for the AirPods Max too. Is purple a possibility?
When convincing customers to spend more on the premium AirPods, features are the key. What's Apple got up its sleeve?
Apple will continue to differentiate the AirPods Pro with noise cancellation after the third-gen AirPods arrived without it, and may look for ways to improve it.
It may not be new, but the feature is certainly popular. It emerged in January 2022 that with the launch of the 13 series Apple removed the iPhone's noise-cancellation feature, which was designed to improve sound quality during phone calls. Perhaps Apple concluded that most people use earbuds to make phone calls; in which case, improvements to the AirPods Pro noise cancellation feature would be beneficial.
Fitness and tracking
According to Bloomberg, the next AirPods Pro will focus more on fitness tracking and have updated motion sensors as well. And they may even offer tracking assistance of sorts when you're not wearing them: in January 2022, Ming-Chi Kuo reported that the second-gen AirPods Pro may come with a case that can emit a sound to help locate it when lost.
A heart rate sensor could be one health feature Apple could add to the future AirPods Pro. While optical heart rate sensors can be uncomfortable, sport-loving users swear by them and they are offered by some rival earbuds. This is a long shot but not beyond the realms of possibility, especially if Apple can deliver them in a sleek package.
Speaking of health and fitness, improved water resistance would be useful. The IPX4 rating currently offered leaves a fair bit of room for improvement. The RHA TrueConnect and Creative Outlier Air headphones, which are the top two choices in our roundup of the best wireless earbuds, are both rated IPX5; the JBL UA True Wireless Flash buds are rated as a ‘stormproof' IPX7.
The AirPods Pro could be in line for gesture-based controls. Apple has applied for a patent called Wearable Voice-Induced Vibration or Silent Gesture Sensor, which describes the use of a sensor to scan the user's face and detect minute changes in expression, and the muscular movements associated with speech even if not spoken out loud. This could be used to trigger commands, or as a biometric identification tool for improved security.
Lossless and 6Gz Bluetooth
Apple launched Lossless Audio and Lossless High-Res Audio for Apple Music last June, but due to the limitations of Bluetooth and the AAC codec, none of the current AirPods are able to stream the higher-quality tracks. However, Jon Prosser reported that Apple is working on a new audio codec that would allow lossless streaming over AirPods, which could get an introduction alongside the new models. In January 2022, Kuo offered a corroborating report (via 9to5Mac) that the second-gen AirPods Pro will bring support for Apple Lossless (ALAC) format.
None of Apple's earbuds support Lossless audio due to the current limitations of Bluetooth. If the AirPods Pro support Lossless, it will need to enhance Bluetooth to enable Lossless audio over AirPlay 2.
Discussing Apple's new technologies in a February 2022 interview, acoustics VP Gary Geaves said: There's a catch, as far as I can see it–a bottleneck that's been preventing real qualitative leaps in the sound of wireless headphones essentially since wireless headphones came into being. I'm talking about Bluetooth, of course, which almost all wireless headphones, including AirPods, rely upon and which doesn't have the data rate for hi-res or even lossless audio.
Geaves added a note of optimism about the possibility of innovation in this space. It's fair to say that we would like more bandwidth and… I'll stop right there, he said. We would like more bandwidth.
How can Apple get this extra bandwidth? The obvious choice would be for the company to upgrade from Bluetooth 5.0 (used in the AirPods 3 and current AirPods Pro) to 6GHz Bluetooth.
What types of AirPods are there?
Apple makes three types of AirPods. There's the AirPods, the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max.
- The AirPods, last updated in October 2021–generally referred to as AirPods 3, or third-gen AirPods. These are unlikely to be updated again until 2023 at the earliest.
- The second-gen AirPods Pro (or AirPods Pro 2) are expected to arrive later in 2022.
- The AirPods Max are the most expensive AirPods, and the least in need of an update. They may get a refresh towards the end of 2022, but don't bank on it. The fact that they cost so much also means customers are unlikely to be willing to update as often as they would for cheaper earbuds.
When will Apple update the AirPods Max?
We don't expect new AirPods Max until near the end of 2022, and quite possibly well beyond that. They were released in December 2020, and the other AirPods have gone well over two years between updates.
However, there may be other announcements related to the AirPods Max before the next version comes out.
With the arrival of Hi-Res audio for Apple Music subscribers, for example, it seems likely that the AirPods Max (and AirPods Pro) will get an update to support Hi-Fi audio; it could be a software update rather than a hardware update. A Bloomberg report indicates that Apple is also considering offering additional color choices.