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Where are Bose's new AirPods competitors?

The Bose Earbuds 500 were supposed to come out in 2019 but didn't. Alas, the coronavirus is only partially to blame for their delay.

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Bose's new Earbuds 500 were announced last June.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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Over the past few months, I've been getting a spattering of emails from readers wondering when Bose's new true wireless earbuds would be available. The Earbuds 500, which I previewed in a post and video last June, were supposed to arrive in time for the 2019 holiday season, but ended up being pushed until 2020. The Noise-Cancelling 700 Earbuds, the company's answer to Apple's AirPods Pro, were always scheduled for this year, but they haven't materialized yet, either. So what's the deal?

The short answer is they're coming, but Bose can't say exactly when -- and the COVID-19 coronavirus has only helped exacerbate their delay.

"On the Earbuds 500, product development has taken longer than anticipated and availability has been delayed until later this year," a Bose spokesperson emailed me after I made inquiries. "We don't have specific timing yet (this has been compounded by the recent coronavirus issues)."

Coronavirus manufacturing delays notwithstanding, what else is going on here? One theory, advanced to us by a knowledgeable tipster, is that Bose was planning to use the same silver-zinc battery technology in its new earbud products that it had developed for its noise-masking Sleepbuds. But that technology proved unreliable, even faulty, and led the company to discontinue the ground-breaking product, which were loved by the light sleepers who used them.

Bose would not confirm whether the choice of battery technology led to the delays of the new earbuds, or whether the Earbuds 500 and Noise Cancelling 700 earbuds would be released simultaneously or have staggered releases. But the delays for such a key product are clearly a big miss for the company.

Read more: Bose quietly replaces its CEO

Back in January, Bose said it was in the process of closing 119 store locations across North America, Europe, Australia and Japan, citing a "dramatic shift to online shopping" as the reason. And thanks to that same tipster, CNET learned that Bose also replaced its CEO earlier this year, without any public-facing announcements.

Technically, Bose didn't fill the CEO position. Jim Scammon, who's worked at Bose for 30 years in a number of leadership positions, most recently as CFO, has taken over as president and chief operating officer. And former CEO Bob Maresca, who remained chairman of the board after his retirement at the end of 2017, has stepped in to work closely with Scammon, a Bose spokesperson said.

Between product delays, store closures and coronavirus-induced economic uncertainty, however, Scammon and Maresca will have their hands full as they navigate Bose through 2020's choppy waters.

Read moreBest noise-canceling headphones of 2020

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