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Headphones

AirPods 2 rumors and more: All the Apple headphone news expected on Sept. 12

New AirPods features and accessories are on deck for the fall -- and we may even see new hardware, too.

Not surprisingly, the new AirPods will have some new features.

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Apple's annual fall launch event on Sept. 12 is widely expected to bring new iPhones, the Apple Watch 4 and maybe even new Face ID iPad Pros. But that event also effectively marks the second anniversary of the Apple AirPods. Despite all the snarky remarks about their design when they were first unveiled in 2016, the AirPods have taken the headphone market by storm and become a runaway hit. So what does Apple do for an encore?

The answer is this: improve on the existing product with software advancements and accessories -- and maybe expand the line with new models, too. Both AirPods 2 and larger, Apple-branded noise-cancelling headphones have been rumored over the past few months.

Here are our expectations for AirPods at the Sept. 12 event, starting with what's already been announced, and then educated guesses on what we could see on stage.

Now playing: Watch this: Latest iPhone leaks and new AirPods coming soon
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Count on it

  • Wireless Charging Case: Last September Apple announced its AirPower wireless charging pad, showing an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods case lying on top of it, charging simultaneously. The company never specified a price or release date for the charging pad (beyond sometime in 2018). But the fact that there was an AirPods case with wireless charging in the works got some people excited. However, neither AirPower nor the AirPods wireless charging case have been released yet. We expect both will be highlighted and priced at the Sept. 12 event, with confirmed release details.
  • New Live Listen feature: As CNET's Shara Tibken wrote back in June, the next version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 12, will include the capability to turn your iPhone into a directional microphone. The feature, called Live Listen, has been offered in Made for iPhone hearing aids for years and has let people with hearing problems better pick up conversations being held around them. The update will be available for owners of existing AirPods.

With the impending release of Apple's AirPower charging pad, we should also see the arrival of Apple's AirPods wireless charging case.

Apple

High probability

There's a good chance we'll be hearing about an upgraded set of AirPods on Sept. 12, too -- so bundling the new wireless charging case with the existing headphones seems like a no-brainer. The big question is whether Apple will continue selling the original AirPods for the same $159 price or slightly less, and the new model would get a more premium price tag.

The bigger question is will Apple go beyond that with a true second-generation model -- AirPods 2, AirPods+ or AirPods (2018) -- maybe AirPods XS? Whatever they're called, here's what a true next-gen AirPods model could offer:

  • Increased water-resistance and maybe full waterproofing: Apple may not tout that the existing AirPods are sweat-resistant, but plenty of people run with (and sweat on) them without issue, so they must be sweat-resistant. However, the new AirPods would boast better water-resistance. You probably won't be able to swim with them, but they'll likely be more durable.
  • Hands-free Siri: A Bloomberg report from earlier this year claimed a new version of the AirPods would come with hands-free Siri integration -- so you could summon the digital assistant with "Hey Siri" and not have to tap on your AirPod.
  • New W2 chip: That same Bloomberg report suggested the new AirPods would get a wireless chip from Apple for improved Bluetooth connectivity and that always-ready Siri. The AirPods have the W1 chip. A W2 chip seems logical.
  • Better battery life: That new W2 chip might just be even more energy efficient, providing better battery life. 
  • Active noise-cancelling: Yes, Bloomberg also said Apple was cooking up active noise-cancelling for the AirPods. One of the problems with AirPods is that they have an open design and let a lot of sound in. In quiet environments they sound pretty decent, but take them into the streets of New York, for instance, and all the external noise has a big impact on sound quality. Technically, this is something of a challenge, so it will be impressive if Apple can pull it off, especially without a massive design change.

The Beats Studio 3 Wireless could get an Apple competitor, reports claim.

David Carnoy/CNET

Lower probability

  • Modified design that fits more ears more securely: The AirPods fit many people's ears remarkably well and some people can run with them in their ears without them falling out. Others -- like me -- struggle. You can buy silicon fins and covers that give you a more secure fit, but you have to remove them to fit the AirPods back in their charging case. It'd be nice if Apple came up with a design that fit more ears, but I doubt it will change much, if at all.

If the a new Apple noise-cancelling headphone is announced, it should look quite different from the Beats. I expect it would cost around $350 and feature the new W2 for better battery life. Hopefully, it would charge via USB-C or Lightning.

Stay tuned

As I said, we expect Apple to bring some clarity to the AirPods' future on Sept. 12 and we'll update this article as soon as any announcements are made.