Kuo: two new AirPods models launching in 2019 & 2020, one with an all-new design

Reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of TF International Securities today predicted in the latest research note that Apple will release two new AirPods models in 2019 and 2020.

According to the analyst’s note to clients, a copy of which was obtained by AppleInsider and MacRumors, the first model is an improved version of the second-generation AirPods featuring the same external design and the same $159 base price as AirPods 2. The other one should be a more substantial update bringing new features and a whole new industrial design.

The revered analysts claims Apple will adopt a system-in-package (SiP) design for these upcoming AirPods. The same system-in-package technique is used for Apple Watch, putting an entire mini-computer along with all of the chips on a single miniaturized part.

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This won’t just save space inside these upcoming AirPods, but also lower production cost and improve yield rates, resulting in higher margins for Apple. The research note is short on details—Kuo does not mention any specific features for the two new AirPods models.

Here’s an excerpt from the note:

We expect Apple will likely launch two new AirPods models in the fourth quarter of 2019 at the earliest. One is the all-new form factor design at a higher price. The other’s outlook and price will be the same as the current model’s.

A common internal design factor of these two new AirPods will be to abandon the current ‘SMT+RFPCB’ design and change to adopt the SiP design instead for improving assembly yield rates, saving internal space and reducing cost.

The report arrived hot on the heels of a DigiTimes story published this morning that claims a noise-cancelling AirPods model is due by the end of this year. DigiTimes explains the challenges of realizing noise cancelation in such a tiny form-factor earphones, with the chief obstacle being an additional strain on the tiny earbud batteries.

Noise cancellation is not a new technology, but a technology hard to harness.

On the one hand, semiconductor devices can hardly work without suffering electromagnetic disturbance, and on the other hand how the structural design of the noise forward feedback microphone can be done well to achieve harmonious operation with other devices is a great challenge for designers and assemblers. 

In addition, earphones with noise-cancellation function will consume more power than those without, and it remains to be seen how Apple will do to reduce power consumption, the sources indicated.

Well, that’s where the SiP process comes into play—the improved manufacturing process that saves space internally would surely let Apple’s engineers fit extra battery capacity. For what it’s worth, one of Kuo’s earlier research notes called for an AirPods model featuring “an all-new design, innovative user experience and high integration with iOS and Mac products”.

Such perks should boost replacement demand, he said.

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That older research note also called for an early-2019 launch sometime during the first quarter. It’s unclear if these AirPods might feature noise-cancelling technology, but Apple has a patent for a noise-cancelling earbuds that would let you selectively drown out, or listen in on sounds from the ambient environment.

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman also said the next AirPods are likely to feature noise-cancellation and improved water resistance allowing them to hold up to “splashes of water and rain”.

Kuo’s note makers no mention of health-tracking AirPods that DigiTimes recently said would launch later in 2019, but the company’s patent filings reveal it’s been researching health-tracking earbuds as well (these sensors might be planned for some later generation).

According to Kuo, the Cupertino technology giant should ship approximately 52 million AirPods units in 2019 and upwards of 75 million units in 2020.