Apple's third-generation AirPods ended up fairly close to what was predicted by the rumors leading up to launch.
Apple has unveiled the third-generation AirPods at its second fall event of 2021 alongside new MacBook Pros with M1 Pro and Max chips, plus a freshly painted HomePod Mini. After tracking all the rumors and speculation for months leading up to the launch, here's a list of what matched up -- and what fell short. You can read the full details about the features of the AirPods 3 here.
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The rumor mill really started to ramp up in February with talk that the AirPods 3 would look similar to the $249 AirPods Pro. These leaks suggested that the third-generation AirPods would do away with the longer stem the first and second generations had, instead using a shorter stem and a smaller charging case. Leaked images seem to back up those rumors, including the photo below from site 52audio.
The actual third-generation AirPods that Apple made official Monday turn out to look fairly similar to that image, as you can see below. An earlier report from Bloomberg had also said that the AirPods 3 would have a similar design to the AirPods Pro.
That same Bloomberg report also said the new entry-level AirPods would miss out on active noise cancellation -- which turned out to be true. That's a feature reserved for the pricier AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. It also means there's no transparency mode on the third-generation AirPods, because the design is open so it doesn't really need it.
Some rumors missed the mark on one key feature the AirPods 3 don't share with the AirPods Pro -- interchangeable tips. Instead, Apple's new earbuds have a contoured design that may offer a snugger and more secure fit than the original AirPods. Another leaked image from Twitter user LeaksApplePro from March 2021 shows a design that looks very similar to what we ended up getting in the actual AirPods.
That the new AirPods would support spatial audio was the rumor, which again turned out to be true. 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 or TV shows and listening to music on an iPhone or iPad.
As for overall sound quality, it's safe to say that the new AirPods should offer improvements in fidelity over regular AirPods, including better bass performance, although we won't know for sure until we can listen to them. Apple says the earbuds offer a custom driver and high dynamic range amplifier that should help provide a bass boost.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who once had a strong track record of Apple rumors, released a note back in July saying the AirPods 3 would feature a similar system-in-package to the AirPods Pro, which could mean audio quality would be comparable. We'll have to wait and see if that's the case once we have a chance to listen to audio on the new AirPods.
The 52audio report also suggested battery life would stay the same as for the second-generation AirPods, around five hours in total. The case would also hold additional charge, as it does now. Turns out, Apple did improve the overall listening time to six hours total, with 30 hours of overall charge time in the case.
In a recent investor note, Kuo suggested the AirPods 3 could be more expensive than the AirPods 2, since Apple is expected to continue selling the AirPods 2 after unveiling the upgrade. Part of that turned out to be true, as the AirPods 2 are still available, now sold at $129 for the version without the wireless charging case. But Kuo was wrong about the AirPods 3 being announced on Sept. 14, as they ended up being unveiled alongside the MacBook Pro on Oct. 18 and cost $179 (£169, AU$279), less than the original $199 for the second-generation AirPods with wireless charging case.