Apple’s ubiquitous AirPods, once criticized for their design and the abandonment of the iPhone’s headphone jack, are set for another innovative update. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman speculates the company is exploring significant additions to the earbuds, such as hearing health and body-temperature features, along with a transition to USB-C charging ports. With the forthcoming Vision Pro headset also likely to tie into the AirPods system, Apple’s wearables business could see another significant boost.
Introduced seven years ago, AirPods have become an integral part of everyday life, generating billions of dollars in revenue for Apple. The wireless earbuds, which saw rapid iterations to include hands-free Siri support, better battery life, and noise cancellation features, have helped Apple’s Wearables, Home, and Accessories category outpace the iPad and Mac in sales growth.
Apple is reportedly working on a hearing test feature for the AirPods, intending to screen for potential hearing issues similarly to how the Apple Watch ECG app checks for heart problems. The company is also keen on exploiting the $10 billion-a-year market for hearing aids, with the US Food and Drug Administration easing the purchase rules for these devices.
Adding body-temperature sensors to the AirPods, allowing more accurate temperature readings from the wearer’s ear canal than wrist measurements, is another anticipated feature. While these health features might still be several months or years away, Gurman expects other changes, like the transition to USB-C charging ports alongside the iPhone 15, to occur sooner.
Despite the charging port transition, an all-new AirPods Pro hardware might not be imminent, as these devices tend to follow a three-year upgrade cycle. However, Apple might consider reducing the price of its cheapest AirPods, making them even more competitive against offerings from rivals like Samsung, Sony, and Amazon.
Gurman also pointed out the important role the AirPods will play in the Vision Pro headset. The earbuds will pair specially with the headset, providing an immersive audio experience without disturbing others in public spaces.
Control for the Vision Pro will primarily be via hand and eye movement, along with Siri voice commands. Despite explorations into other control methods, Apple seems to have decided that a controller-free approach is more elegant. However, the Vision Pro will support PlayStation 5 and Xbox controllers for gaming.
Apple’s retail stores are also due for a significant payment system upgrade. The company plans to shift entirely to a tap-to-pay approach, abandoning the “Isaac” point-of-sale systems currently in use. This move is expected to improve efficiency and battery life at retail locations.
With these speculations, Apple appears to be pushing its boundaries further, introducing health-focused features in its wearables and striving for seamless user interaction with the Vision Pro. How these potential updates will impact the user experience and Apple’s position in the wearables market remains to be seen.