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AirPods 3: Rumors, leaks and possible release date for Apple's new earbuds

Apple may be close to releasing the third-generation AirPods. Here are all the rumors in one place.

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Apple's AirPods are due for an update sometime in 2021, according to a report from Bloomberg. The company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off Monday, June 7, and even though it's primarily a software-focused event, the third-generation AirPods might make their debut at WWDC. A new pair of AirPods are just one of the products we expect Apple to release this year. 

Some earlier leaks suggested that the AirPods 3 will share features with the $249 AirPods Pro, including spatial audio support, a shorter stem, interchangeable tips and a smaller charging case. Leaked images seem to back up those rumors. Here's everything you need to know about the rumored AirPods 3.

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AirPods 3 may look more like the AirPods Pro

So far we've had two generations of regular AirPods, the wireless earbuds with a long stem that sticks down from your ear. But a February leak from 52audio claims to show the third-generation earbuds with a shorter stem, so overall the design looks more like the AirPods Pro.

airpods-3-leak-52audio.png

The leaked image claiming to be the AirPods 3.

52audio

The AirPods 3 might also borrow the interchangeable eartip design from the AirPods Pro to provide a more snug fit than the current AirPods, which simply rest in your ear. Some wearers found regular AirPods would fall out easily while moving around or running, so tips can help provide a more secure fit. While the AirPods Pro have clickable stems, the AirPods 3 may have touch surfaces for interacting with the earbuds.

Twitter user LeaksApplePro posted the image below, which apparently shows the AirPods 3 in the real world. They look similar to the image shared by 52audio that show earbuds with shorter stems.

An earlier report from Bloomberg also said that the AirPods 3 may share a similar design to the AirPods Pro, adding that the entry-level AirPods would miss out on active noise cancellation. So far, it's unclear whether the AirPods 3 would have transparency mode, a way to pipe in external sounds to make you more aware of your surroundings.

Read more: 3 AirPods upgrades I want Apple to make this year

Will the AirPods 3 also come with spatial audio support?

That's the rumor. First introduced with the release of iOS 14 on the AirPods Pro, and later on the AirPods Max, spatial audio uses accelerometers and gyroscopes to give a virtual surround sound effect when watching supported movies, TV shows and listening to music on an iPhone or iPad.

The 52audio report suggests battery life would stay the same as the second-generation AirPods: around five hours in total. The case would also hold additional charge, like it does now. In leaked images, the case looks like it splits the difference between the more square AirPods and rectangular AirPods Pro cases.

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The original AirPods design.

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

As for the sound quality there's no clear detail yet on what to expect, although it's likely that there would be improvements in fidelity over regular AirPods. TF International Securities research analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a strong track record of Apple rumors, released a note back in July claiming that the AirPods 3 would feature a similar system-in-package to the AirPods Pro, which means audio quality would likely be comparable.

It's also safe to assume that AirPods and AirPods Pro features like quick switching will also come to the AirPods 3.

Will the AirPods 3 be released at WWDC?

Apple hasn't officially announced any launch event or dates for the new AirPods yet. The AirPods Pro and AirPods Max were both announced in press releases, so it won't be surprising if Apple does the same with the AirPods 3. But with WWDC just around the corner, we might see them announced on June 7. Alternately, we may get some more insight into how Apple's lossless audio on Apple Music could work with the AirPods. 

We may also get the Beats Studio Buds -- wireless earbuds that basketball star LeBron James may have posted on Instagram before their official release.

It makes sense for the AirPods 3 to debut at the same $159 price as the current AirPods. But it's unclear if there will be a $199 wireless charging case version as well, or if that case would be the standard option.

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