Although Apple's next-gen AirPods didn't make an appearance alongside the iPhone 13 and Apple Watch 7 last week, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says the AirPods 3 could be coming before the end of the year. In his recent Power On newsletter, Gurman says the AirPods 3 and new MacBook Pro models are on track to arrive later in 2021. Gurman's well informed speculation follows a report from DigiTimes that says the AirPods 3 have entered mass production and should arrive before the end of this year.

airpods 3 rumors: apple's new earbuds could still arrive this year

© CNET AirPods 3 rumors: Apple's new earbuds may borrow the AirPods Pro look

The AirPods 3 are said to look similar to the AirPods Pro and feature spatial audio support, as do both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.

Some earlier leaks suggested that the AirPods 3 would share other features with the $249 AirPods Pro, including 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.

Read more: Every reveal at Apple's September event, including iPhone 13, revamped iPad Mini and Watch 7

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. However, like the standard AirPods, the buds in the leaked image appear to have an open design with no silicone tips.

airpods 3 rumors: apple's new earbuds could still arrive this year

© Provided by CNET The leaked image purporting to be the AirPods 3. 52audio

The AirPods 3 could borrow the interchangeable ear-tip 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 or TV shows and listening to music on an iPhone or iPad.

The 52audio report suggests 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. In leaked images, the case looks like it splits the difference between the more square AirPods and rectangular AirPods Pro cases.

airpods 3 rumors: apple's new earbuds could still arrive this year

© Provided by CNET 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, including better bass performance. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who once had 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 could mean audio quality would be comparable.

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

When will the AirPods 3 be released?

As noted, the AirPods 3 weren't announced at Apple's Sept. 14 event, where the iPhone 13, new iPads and Apple Watch 7 were unveiled. 

We've been on the lookout for the new AirPods since WWDC in June. There's a good chance the AirPods 3 will get a fall release, possibly as soon as October, as Apple followers suggest there will be one more Apple event this year. Rumors from Gurman and DigiTimes also speculate the AirPods 3 could be coming before the end of the year. 

While it makes sense for the AirPods 3 to debut at the same $159 price as the current AirPods, if Apple opts not to have a version with a wired charging case, the new AirPods could very well cost $199 with wireless charging as the only option (as it is with the AirPods Pro). In a recent investor note, Kuo suggests the AirPods 3 could be more expensive than its predecessor, since Apple is expected to continue selling the AirPods 2 after unveiling the upgrade. But Kuo was wrong about the AirPods 3 being announced on Sept. 14, and he should have noted that at $199, they would be the same price as the current AirPods with the wireless charging case. 

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