I’ve been wondering where Apple would go next with wearables. Today, we have a report from the ever-busy Ming-Chi Quo indicting that Apple will be following up their very successful AirPods with a brand new set of Apple-branded over-the-ear headphones.
“Apple to have own-brand, high-end over-ear headphones with all-new design; to be as convenient as AirPods with better sound quality; shipments to begin 4Q18F at earliest; Primax & SZS will be the key suppliers & will benefit from high ASPs. We believe that after AirPods and HomePod, Apple’s next addition will be high-end over-ear headphones, making its acoustic accessory lineup more complete.”
This is such a logical next step for Apple. Thanks to their acquisition of Beats, they have the manufacturing connections and design expertise to easily handle this task. Thanks to the work that lead up to the release of the AirPods, they also have the specialized silicone that makes Bluetooth pairing simple and easy. They have also already built out the connection system from the AirPods that automatically pairs playback devices across all of a user’s iCloud devices. Everything is in place to deliver a stand out product in this category.
Assuming that these rumored headphones deliver the kind of audio quality that we are expecting in the wake of the HomePod, then they will also will another important gap in the Apple lineup. While the AirPods have been universally praised for their portability, reliability, and ease of use, the one major reservation has been sound quality. They are definitely better than Apple’s similar-looking EarPods that come with all iPhones, but they still leave a little something to be desired.
The AirPods get a bit of a pass for merely adequate sound quality because of their size and ease of use. Beyond the differences in style and design, that should also make these new potential headphones stand out. Again, if Apple delivers the goods in terms of sound quality, the only thing that will hold back sales will be the price.
We know from Beats that Apple has no problem selling their audio gear at HUGE markups. That said, they walked a fairly middle-of-the-road path with the AirPods in terms of pricing, which were purposely kept separate from Beats in branding and advertising. I would expect the same brand separation here, as well as a similar lower markup to insure high sales numbers. I know one thing- I will definitely be excited to try these out as soon as they are released. Apple knows the stakes and scrutiny that comes with their branding, and that they will have to deliver great sound. They delivered with the HomePod, at least in terms of sound quality. I expect the same here.
This isn’t the only report from Ming-Chi Quo on Apple portable audio this week. He also reported that we should expect the release of refreshed AirPods in the second half of this year. The only differences should be the inclusion of the new wireless charging case for compatibility with Apple’s coming AirPower charging mat, and an enhanced W1 wireless chip. While modest updates, the wireless charging upgrade will be seen as a handy added convenience by many users.
Beyond this report, Bloomberg also claimed this week that Apple is also working on a water resistant set of AirPods. This product is evidently earlier in development, and won’t see release until 2019, at the earliest. However, this is a solid next step for Apple’s popular all wireless earbuds. A few manufacturers have tried to compete with them in this space, namely Google and Samsung, but none have garnered anything close to the same sales or mindshare as of yet. However, by 2019, I would expect Apple to have more legitimate competition in this category, requiring continued development and innovation to keep that top spot. Hopefully there will be more design and feature improvements beyond water resistance, but that is a good place to start.