The AirPods range currently includes both the second- and third-generation AirPods, plus the AirPods Pro with active noise cancelling (ANC). There is, of course, also the AirPods Max, which are the flagship over-ear headphones from late-2020 – and nothing like Apple's in-ears.
The most recent member of the AirPods family is the third-gen AirPods, which arrived in October 2021. We therefore aren’t expecting their AirPods 4 replacement anytime soon, but as ever with Apple it’s good to get ahead of the curve and keep a close eye on the rumours and speculation that’s already floating around.
Will AirPods 4 feature noise cancelling?
The big question will be around active noise cancelling. This is the stand-out feature of the AirPods Pro, and the main reason why you’d spend the extra cash on Apple’s more premium wireless earphones.
Could ANC come to the AirPods 4? It’s possible, but if the current £169 price tag is to remain, that could be tricky. And if that happened, the AirPods 4 would surely cannibalise AirPods Pro sales. To stop that happening, the upcoming AirPods Pro 2 will have to be something special.
AirPods 4: The features we want
So what do we want from AirPods 4? We’re going to sidestep ANC and instead focus on a handful of smaller updates.
A battery life longer than the current six hours would be welcome, along with faster charging, and (finally) a switch from Lightning to USB-C for the charging case.
The AirPods shrunk in size for the third generation, so we’re not expecting a major visual overhaul for AirPods 4 in that regard, nor do we expect a drastic change for the charge case (other than the USB-C port).
What about a range of colours? So far, only the flagship AirPods Max have been offered in multiple colours, with the rest of the AirPods range sticking to glossy white. With the multi-coloured iMac, plus rumours of numerous colours of MacBook Air coming soon, we’d like to see Apple bring colour options to its iconic earphones too.
We also want to see Apple do more with its spatial audio technology. It makes for a clever party trick when you turn your head and the audio appears to shift to match wherever your iPhone or iPad is. But we want Apple to show us why this technology matters, and what it can do to genuinely improve the listening experience.
Speaking of listening experience, we’d like to see Apple improve the fit and cut down on sound leakage. AirPods Pro have rubber ear tips to achieve this (along with ANC of course), so hopefully the next generation of regular AirPods will follow the Pro’s lead with rubber tips for a better fit and improved passive noise cancelling.
Lastly, we're keen to see Apple add health and fitness tracking features directly to the AirPods. This has already been rumoured for the upcoming AirPods Pro 2, so could trickle down to the AirPods 4 a year or so later.
AirPods 4: Release date and price
The original AirPods landed in December 2016 and were followed by the second-generation AirPods in March 2019, before the current model arrived in October 2021. The price hasn't varied too much, so we would assume around the £/$169 bracket.
AirPods aren't updated as regularly as the iPhone, although Apple tends to announce new models of AirPods alongside the iPhone. With the new iPhone almost always landing in the autumn, and usually the second week of September, this is what you should expect for the next AirPods too.
That said, Apple tends to update its entry-level AirPods every couple of years. And with the AirPods 3 just a few months old at the time of writing, fans shouldn’t really expect AirPods 4 to land until late 2023 or even early 2024.
Should I buy AirPods 3 now or wait?
We reviewed the AirPods 3 when they launched in 2021 and awarded them four stars out of five. We liked the dynamic, detailed sound they produce, along with the new, more compact design and improved battery life.
However, while the fit will be ideal for some users, it isn’t perfect for everyone, and although better than before, the battery life remains fairly average. Lastly, we feel Apple could do a better job of stopping sound from leaking in, and as with all AirPods, their smart features are only available on Apple devices.
Hopefully, all of these points will be addressed when the next-generation AirPods. But if the above sounds like fair compromise then, well, why not consider buying AirPods 3 now rather than waiting?
What about AirPods Pro 2?
Anyone waiting for AirPods 4 might be tempted in the interim period by those, if the rumours are true.