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Apple AirPods (4th generation): Release date, rumors, and what we want to see
Updated, September 6, 2023 (05:20 PM ET): We have updated this Apple AirPods (4th generation) rumor hub with more information on a possible release date.
Original article: No wireless earbuds are more iconic than the AirPods. These open-ear headphones have more cameos than Stan Lee and look like the AirPods Pro without ear tips. While the AirPods have always worked best with iPhones, we may see some hardware changes that make the Apple AirPods (4th generation) more Android-friendly. Perk your ears up: here’s everything we know about the AirPods 4.
Apple AirPods (4th generation): At a glance
- When are they coming out? It's very possible we'll see the AirPods 4 launch alongside the iPhone 15 series on September 12. However, it could be later in October instead.
- What's new? All signs point to more hearing- and health-related perks on the AirPods 4.
- How much will they cost? The AirPods 4 could land at the same $169 price as the AirPods 3, although there could be upcharges for more premium case options.
Will there be an Apple AirPods (4th generation) series?
Unless Apple goes under, the AirPods 4 will come to market. In Q2 of 2023, Apple’s Wearables, Home, and Accessories sales outperformed its Mac and iPad categories individually. With that kind of revenue, there’s no way Apple’s slowing down on its AirPods development.
What is the Apple AirPods (4th generation) release date?
- Apple AirPods (1st generation): December 13, 2016
- Apple AirPods (2nd generation): March 20, 2019
- Apple AirPods (3rd generation): October 26, 2021
- Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation): October 30, 2019
- Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation): September 23, 2022
We hope Apple will announce the AirPods 4 at its annual iPhone event this year, which happens on September 12. That event will see the launch of the iPhone 15 series. The AirPods Pro 2 are Apple’s most recent earphones, and it announced those at the iPhone event in September 2022. Apple usually releases new AirPods every two or three years. This fall will mark two years since the AirPods 3 came out.
However, we might not see the AirPods 4 announcement until October 2023 or even some time in 2024. We waited 31 months between the AirPods’ second and third generations and 27 months between the original AirPods and the second generation.
What features and specs will the AirPods (4th generation) have?
The AirPods 4 are still shrouded in mystery, but Apple’s previous AirPods have been useful to those with hearing impairments. All signs point to more hearing and health-related perks on the AirPods 4.
The AirPods are Apple’s unsealed earphones, and there’s no reason for Apple to add ear tips to the AirPods 4. This unsealed fit doesn’t work for everyone, but it has its benefits: you can hear your surroundings and music simultaneously. If listeners want a sealed design, they can grab the AirPods Pro 2 ($199 at Amazon) instead.
The AirPods and AirPods Pro series have only come out in white, which will almost certainly remain true for the AirPods. Apple will likely offer two AirPods 4 models: one with a wireless charging case and one that’s wired only. Thanks to new rules in the EU, Apple needs to shift its charging ports from Lightning to USB-C, meaning AirPods 4 cases will have USB-C charging. This move could attract more Android users to the AirPods than before.
Based on how the AirPods 3, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Pro 2 all have an IPX4 water-resistant rating, the AirPods 4 will likely be just as durable, if not more so. Like the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 2, the charging case should also keep the same IPX4 rating.
Specs and features
We expect the AirPods 4 will house Apple’s H2 chip. If so, this will be an upgrade from the H1 chip in the AirPods 3. Apple’s proprietary chips afford one-step pairing to Apple devices, audio switching, and improved connectivity and efficiency. The newer H2 chip will offer these perks and other computational advancements.
The H2 chip would also almost certainly bring Bluetooth 5.3 support and longer battery life.
Since non-Pro versions of AirPods don’t have noise canceling, the extra processing power will likely enable a hearing test. According to Bloomberg, this test will help users identify potential hearing problems. Similarly, Apple may expand its hearable features for those with hearing impairments. We could see a refinement of Apple’s Conversation Boost and Live Listen modes. The former currently increases the volume of someone speaking in front of you, and the latter helps you hear a conversation in a noisy space. Live Listen can even help you hear someone speaking at you from afar.
Apple is developing sensors for the AirPods that would measure body temperature through the ear canal. This could help identify if the wearer is coming down with a cold. Another new command we’re looking forward to is the ability to mute and unmute yourself during a phone call.
How much will the Apple AirPods (4th generation) cost?
- Apple AirPods (1st generation): $159
- Apple AirPods (2nd generation) with Charging Case: $159
- Apple AirPods (2nd generation) with Wireless Charging Case: $199
- Apple AirPods (3rd generation) with Charging Case: $169
- Apple AirPods (3rd generation) with MagSafe Case: $179
- Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation): $249
- Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation): $249
It’s very likely Apple will stick to its typical price range for the AirPods 4. If so, the new AirPods will be around $169. Apple takes two-pronged approaches to its AirPods. Historically, the AirPods have varied in price between the Lightning-only and wireless charging cases. If it does so for the AirPods 4, the wired case model will be cheaper than the wireless one.
For reference, the first-gen AirPods retailed for $159, and there was no wireless charging option. When Apple released the AirPods 2, it kept the same $159 price for the Lightning case version. This pricing made sense as the AirPods 1 and AirPods 2 cases had identical dimensions. At the time, the AirPods 2 with Wireless Charging Case was $40 more expensive than its wired counterpart. Today, you can get the AirPods 2 with Charging Case for $99 at Amazon. With the AirPods (3rd generation), Apple staggered its wired and wireless case price points again, but the difference was less dramatic. You can buy the AirPods 3 with a Lightning case for $169; the MagSafe case option only costs $10 more.
Should I wait for the AirPods (4th generation)?
We don’t have a concrete idea of when Apple will actually launch the fourth-generation AirPods. As such, you might be waiting a long time to get them — possibly up to a year. If you need a set of AirPods or non-Apple true wireless earbuds right now, we suggest you grab an existing pair rather than wait.
The most obvious competitor to the AirPods 4 would be the third-generation AirPods ($195 at Amazon). These will be similarly priced as the AirPods 4, no doubt, so you won’t likely lose any money by investing in them. However, if you can afford it, we highly recommend upgrading to the second-generation AirPods Pro ($199 at Amazon) instead. These will give you a more comfortable fit, ANC, better sound, onboard volume controls, and more.
If you aren’t locked to AirPods, there are some stellar choices out there from both Apple and competitors. The Apple Beats Powerbeats Pro ($159 at Amazon) are an Apple product and sound amazing. You’ll need to deal with a bulky charging case, but these are a great option, especially for athletes. If you want something a bit more like AirPods, check out the Bose Sport Earbuds ($165 at Amazon).
One thing to note: the AirPods (4th generation) will come with a USB-C port on the charging case. No other AirPods on the market right now come with a USB-C case. The AirPods 4 might be worth the wait for that feature alone.
Apple AirPods (4th generation): What we want to see
We want all the anticipated hearing and health features to come to the new AirPods 4. Aside from that, Apple’s iconic buds would benefit from a few more advancements.
Onboard volume controls
Making volume adjustments with the AirPods (3rd generation) requires you to say, “Hey Siri,” or reach for your phone. Conveniently, the AirPods Pro 2 have swipe functionality on both stems to change volume. Adding volume controls to the AirPods 4 seems easy enough for Apple.
Due to the AirPods’ open-type fit, these buds have an underwhelming bass response. If Apple gave up some control over the AirPods’ frequency response, we could all tune the sound to our liking. No amount of equalization will match the sound quality of sealed earbuds, but it can help. As much as we’d love to see Apple give up some control, that’s not the company’s style.
Improved case hardware and software
With the AirPods Pro 2, Apple added a lanyard loop and speaker. These aren’t selling points of the second-gen AirPods Pro, but they add some unique functionality. New hardware and Apple’s U1 chip would make it so listeners could locate the AirPods 4 case through the Find My app. It would also allow you to emit a sound from the case, helping you find it under a pile of clothes. I’ve done this countless times with my AirPods Pro 2 case.
Better mic quality
The AirPods 3 microphone quality is acceptable for most phone calls, but it doesn’t do the best job rejecting background noise like wind. We hope Apple improves this on the AirPods 4. Given how the Beats Studio Buds Plus have much better microphones than the Studio Buds — and how Apple owns Beats — better mic quality is nearly guaranteed.
To get an idea of the baseline mic performance we’ll hear from the AirPods 4, listen to our mic samples below.
Apple AirPods (3rd generation) microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Apple AirPods (3rd generation) microphone demo (Street conditions):
It’s great that the AirPods 3 earbuds and case are water-resistant, but we’d appreciate dust resistance, too. Adding a dust-resistant build would make the earbuds an excellent option for anyone who lives in a desert clime or people who chalk up their hands before exercising. It’s not a necessity, but adding dust resistance would be a significant move for Apple as it’s never done so before.
That’s everything we know about the AirPods (4th generation). Let us know what you’re most excited about below!