Apple has just introduced its third-generation AirPods, the latest set of the company’s massively popular true wireless earbuds. With a new design that blends aspects of the prior AirPods and AirPods Pro, the third-gen AirPods retain a hard plastic, one-size-fits-most fit in the ear. But the form factor is seeing significant change for the first time since 2016: the new earbuds have much shorter stems than before. Priced at $179, the third-generation AirPods will be available to preorder today and will go on sale next week.
They’re now water- and sweat-resistant. Battery life has been extended to six hours of continuous listening. With the case, you’ll get a total of 30 hours. The third-gen AirPods have a redesigned custom driver and adaptive EQ that automatically tunes and optimizes audio output. Apple has carried over the “force sensor” controls of the AirPods Pro, and it also says the new AirPods are compatible with its MagSafe charging system.
The company is putting a big emphasis on spatial audio and Dolby Atmos music mixes with the new AirPods. They’ll support the same head tracking capabilities as the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, which also apply when watching video. Already seen by many as the champion of voice call quality, Apple claims to have further improved microphone performance on the latest AirPods. They “feature AAC-ELD, a superior speech codec that offers full HD voice quality, providing clear, natural communication for FaceTime calls.”
With their open, rest-in-the-ear design, the new AirPods Pro lack active noise cancellation. So the AirPods Pro are still the way to go if you want that feature (or actual ear tips).
The original AirPods were released in 2016 and were followed by a second-gen pair that added wireless charging and other modest improvements. The AirPods Pro arrived in 2019 with a more traditional in-ear fit with silicone ear tips. Last year, Apple expanded the AirPods line to cover over-ear headphones for the first time with the launch of the $549 AirPods Max.
There’s a lot riding on the latest AirPods to sustain the huge popularity of their predecessors. Above all else, the earbuds are well regarded for their ease of use and seamless integration with Apple’s ecosystem of hardware, including the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV.
But Apple faces more competition than ever before — especially at lower price points. Aside from the latest alternatives from Samsung, Jabra, Amazon, Sony, and others, newer entrants like Nothing have sought to set themselves apart on design and value with starting prices around $99.
After today’s introduction of the latest model, the second-generation AirPods will remain in Apple’s lineup for a lower price of $129.