5 things AirPods 3 need if they’re going to be must-buy wireless earbuds

AirPods 3 should put Apple at the front of the headphones pack again – here are the upgrades they'll need to do it

AirPods in case on red background
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s AirPods (2nd Gen) are years old now, and don't look so good when up against the best wireless earbuds in such a fast-changing marketplace – you need to keep innovating or you’ll lose your place at the top table. So there’s a lot riding on the AirPods 3, which we’re expecting to see at the launch of the iPhone 13.

If the rumours are correct, we’re going to see some interesting upgrades, such as a design more like the AirPods Pro (perhaps with or perhaps without the more comfortable earpieces), a shorter and wider charging case, a new wireless chip and force sensor controls on the stems; rumours also predict a pressure relief system like the AirPods Pro for more comfortable long-term listening and a wireless case as standard. It’s all very good, but there are still a few things missing that are must-haves for me.

How to make AirPods 3 must-have earbuds

Here are five things I'd like to see in the AirPods 3.

1 A sensible price

The current AirPods are $159/£159AUD$249, which is a lot of cash when you compare it to rival earbuds: Apple's own Beats Studio Buds are £129/AUD$199, and they include active noise cancellation. The excellent Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ are just £99/$99/ (not sold in AU). The whole market has moved down in price, and Apple should follow.

2 Spatial Audio

Apple's Spatial Audio is very good, and it's an obvious way to differentiate AirPods from rival firms' headphones: reserving it for the AirPods Pro seems counter-productive, because the more people experience it the more people will consider it a must-have.

3 Earbuds that fit

Try as I might, I can’t get AirPods to stay in my ears or to feel comfortable. You don't need to go down the Cambridge Audio route – my Melomania Touch earbuds came with enough silicone tips for the entire family plus multiple fins to anchor the buds firmly in my head – but having earbuds that fit properly shouldn't be something you have to wish for.

4 Better battery life

The current AirPods are only good for five hours of music, which isn't great for long distance travelling or days when you want to keep the outside world out. Rivals are getting 7-10 hours, so shouldn't we get that from Apple too?

5 More bass

This is connected to the better fit: Snugly fitting in-ears such as the Beats or my Melomanias deliver more immersive bass, which is very important if like me you practically climb into the bass bins at gigs.

I’ve no doubt that the AirPods 3 will still sell: like the original iPod headphones, they’ve become a kind of status symbol on the city streets around me. But there should be any compromise in quality to have that status symbol – hopefully Apple will give us what we want at a great price.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series; her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, was shortlisted for the British Book Awards. When she’s not scribbling, Carrie is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind (unquietmindmusic).