After more than two years on the market, Apple is rumored to be working on a second generation set of AirPods, along with an over-the-ear headphone product, both slated to arrive in 2019. While nothing is yet official, it's speculated that Apple's next-gen AirPods will feature wireless charging support, among other upgrades.
That's according to Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst at TF International Securities, an overseas financial services group. Kuo has a pretty favorable history when it comes to predicting Apple's future plans, and is widely regarded as a top Apple analyst. That said, he previously predicted Apple would launch its next set of AirPods in the second half of 2018, but that has not happened.
According to Kuo's most recent research note, the new AirPods will ship in a redesigned case that supports wireless charging in early 2019, followed by an "all-new design model" in 2020.
"We attribute AirPods' dramatic growth (14–16mn, 26–28mn, 50–55mn, 70–80mn and 100–110mn units in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively) to 1) the upgraded model with wireless charging support to benefit shipments to launch in 1Q19, 2) the all-new design model to boost replacement demand to launch in 1Q20, 3) an innovative user experience, and 4) high integration with iOS and Mac products. In summary, AirPods is Apple's most popular accessory ever, and it currently has the best growth momentum among Apple products," Kuo says.
That's an interesting perspective. In his note, Kuo points out that less than 5 percent of all iPhone users own a set of AirPods at the moment. However, he sees tremendous growth opportunity, as there are over 1 billion iPhone owners around the world.
It's unclear what other features might accompany the next set of AirPods. There have been rumors of noise cancellation support and water resistance both being added, but one or both of those features could just as easily be reserved for the 2020 refresh.
It will also be interesting to see what kind of price point Apple attaches to its next round of AirPods. Apple's earbuds already carry a premium price at $159. We suspect Apple will stick with that price, though depending on what new features are added, we wouldn't be shocked if Apple ended up charging a big more.