Apple is about to pump up the volume on its audio-device strategy with noise-cancelling AirPods, a new HomePod and studio-quality over-ear headphones due as early as next year.
The new AirPods will combine noise-cancellation and water resistance, according to people familiar with the matter, although you won’t be able to go swimming with them – the water resistance is mainly to protect against rain and perspiration.
Apple is also working on a wireless charging case that’s compatible with the upcoming AirPower charger and trying to increase the range that AirPods can work away from an iPhone or iPad.
Slated for 2019, the earbuds will likely cost more than the existing US$159 pair, and that could push Apple to segment the product line like it does with iPhones.
The company has also internally discussed adding biometric sensors to future AirPods, like a heart-rate monitor, to expand its health-related hardware offerings beyond the Apple Watch, another person said. The current AirPods will be refreshed later this year with a new chip and support for hands-free Siri activation.
Apple's Bose-beaters won't be from Beats
There are over-ear headphones coming from Apple, too. Those will compete with pricey models from Bose and Sennheiser. They will use Apple branding and be a higher-end alternative to the company’s Beats line.
Apple originally intended to introduce the headphones by the end of 2018, but has faced development challenges, and is now targeting a launch as early as next year, the people said. They asked not to be identified talking about unreleased products. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.
The upcoming audio push builds on Apple’s earlier success in the field. The iPod and iTunes digital music store helped revive the industry and began a transformation that turned the company from a computer maker into a mobile-device giant.
In 2012, Apple declared itself one of the largest shippers of audio speakers because of the earbuds that come bundled with its devices and the built-in speakers in iPhones, Macs and iPads.
Two years later, Apple bought headphone maker and streaming-music company Beats for US$3 billion, its largest acquisition. An in-house audio-product team is run by Gary Geaves, formerly an engineer from B&W Group, a maker of speaker systems and headphones.
Apple’s latest music-focused device, the HomePod, was also delayed, and has seen sluggish sales so far – although reviewers praised the sound quality.