Apple Is (Definitely, Maybe) Upgrading Its AirPods—Here’s What You Need to Know

Apple Is (Definitely, Maybe) Upgrading Its AirPods—Here’s What You Need to Know

Affordable prices, USB-C chargers, shorter stems—is Apple feeling the financial heat or is this its transition into a mass brand? 

Apple is one of those rare companies with a multitude of products, with nearly each winning consumers’ favor. From the Mac to the iPhone, iPods, AirPods and more—customers have put immense loyalty on display when it comes to Apple products. However, that loyalty has been put to the test recently, with some of Apple’s new launches not performing so well. For instance, its latest iPhone 15 came under fire for being poorly built (breaking easily and overheating). Plus, the Company cut production for its third-generation AirPods by 30 percent in light of falling demand. Finally, in China—its biggest market, Apple has been losing consumer favor

There’s no certain reason why the tides have turned on Apple, but rumor has it that it has a new launch planned for next year that might improve things: the AirPods fourth generation. Two years since the launch of the last generation (3rd), AirPods seem to be in for another iteration—going beyond just the case and earbuds, with enhancements spanning sound quality and more. 

The question lingers: do these upgrades truly elevate the beloved pods to new heights? Well.

New generation, tried-and-tested aesthetic inspirations

Apple is gearing up to introduce two sets of 4th-gen AirPods in 2024, building on a foundation of old aesthetic influences. The 4th-gen AirPods are poised to feature a design that combines elements from the 3rd-gen AirPods and the Pro model, with shorter stems and new colors. Both sets are expected to be priced similarly to existing AirPods (ranging between US$120 and US$800), but there will be some distinctions between both sets. 

The more advanced choice of the two will see features from the AirPods Pro, including noise cancellation and integrated speakers on the charging case so that it is easier to use the “Find My” feature. Interestingly, however, both versions are unlikely to have interchangeable silicone ear tips; it looks like the familiar one-size-fits-most, open-air design, synonymous with standard AirPods, will carry on. What’s more, the upcoming AirPods generations are likely still water-resistant.

While Apple has made no official announcement regarding the new AirPods, users already have a wishlist of the features of the new models. First on the list is battery optimization, seeing as the current AirPods die in about six hours. Users are hoping that the new one comes with a longer battery life. 

USB-C for yourself

In 2022, the European Union implemented regulations requiring all phones launched after autumn 2024 to have the USB-C charger type to help consumers save money and reduce overall waste. Apple had no choice but to comply and transition from its USB-A lightning cable to USB-C. This move, though argued by Apple to hinder innovation, is seen as a positive step for seamless charging experiences for Apple users. Experts also note that the new generation of AirPods is likely to adopt USB-C

Another uncharacteristic C-word for AirPods

Cheap. While this term might leave many Apple aficionados with stomachs churning, it would help Apple make up for losses due to poorer sales of its products. Currently, the AirPods 3rd generation is priced at US$177.82, with the AirPods Max going up to US$573. The cheapest AirPods are the 2nd-gen, which is priced at US$129 and often sold on sale for US$99. With the upcoming iteration, Apple aims to give users a more affordable option—at least per industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo—potentially priced at US$99

The US$99 4th-gen AirPods might be dubbed the AirPods “Lite” (a trend that started off to indicate fewer ingredients in food products and is now burgeoning into a way of life). Plus, the AirPods Lite will probably not have the option of wireless charging (small price to pay for the branding?).

What users might lose out on

If Apple opts for a more budget-friendly approach, it may choose to skip some premium features, like automatic ear detection and head tracking for spatial audio. These features currently enhance the user experience by pausing content when the AirPods are removed and providing immersive spatial audio based on head movement. 

AirPods’ eco problem 

As Apple starts phasing out its older versions, users worry about the pinch their wallets might feel if they want new ones. Apple’s AirPods usually do not live beyond two years, and there is no discount for trading in older AirPods for new ones. In such a case, users are left with limited options: either buy a brand-new pair, pay US$69 to replace a single damaged AirPod, spend US$49 for a battery replacement or seek alternatives. 

Historically, when a new model comes around, the older versions become cheaper (thus more appealing). However, as Apple prepares to discontinue earlier AirPods, consumers face the dilemma of either investing in the latest models or settling for less advanced, potentially less expensive alternatives. But let’s be real, you wouldn’t want to downgrade from an Apple AirPods Pro and its premium features to a basic US$99 wired charging set just to save some money.

The Swap Club: Combating rapid consumerism with tech upcycling

If you want to extend the life of your current AirPods, here’s a startup that might help: The Swap Club. The Swap Club is designed to rejuvenate your existing AirPods, allowing you to swap them for a refurbished pair with a restored battery life. The process is straightforward and eco-friendly: First, verify that your AirPods are eligible (they must be intact and genuine), then place an order for a “like-new” pair. Once you receive your refreshed AirPods, simply send your old pair back in the same box, and the startup will replace the battery of your old AirPods and give them a new life and home.

The Swap Club’s approach of renewing and reusing stands as a testament to the potential of tech upcycling in reducing consumer waste and promoting a more sustainable approach to technology. Also, this whole process will only cost US$65 in total (US$60 plus US$5 for shipping), which is a great deal when you consider the price of a pair of new AirPods

So, if you are not one for spending frequently on new Apple products, look to tech upcycling startups to help you out. Otherwise, the new AirPods are set to release sometime in 2024, and the Pro versions by 2025

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Header Image Courtesy of Freepik

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