- Apple reportedly plans to release a pair of high-end over-ear headphones in 2019.
- These headphones would differ from Apple's Beats line of headphones, and feature Apple branding instead of the Beats logo.
- A pair of studio-quality Apple headphones is bound to be successful, for many reasons.
Buried in a Thursday report from Bloomberg about Sonos was a nugget some might not have known about: Apple plans to release a pair of high-end over-ear headphones in 2019, to compete with the likes of Bose and Sennheiser.
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo was the first to report on Apple's over-ear headphones back in February 2018. In his research note (published via MacRumors), Kuo said Apple's high-end headphones will be "as convenient as AirPods with better sound quality."
Last June, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reported that Apple's over-ear headphones would be separate from the Beats line. (Apple purchased Beats Electronics for $3 billion (R41.1 billion) back in 2014.)
Gurman said Apple had initially planned to release its headphones by the end of 2018, but moved the launch date to early 2019 after "development challenges."
It's unclear what issues Apple may have encountered, as we don't know much about the headphones themselves. We know they would feature an Apple logo instead of the Beats logo, and feature an upgraded W1 chip, like AirPods have, to let them instantly connect to other Apple devices. But we don't know what the headphones will actually look like, how they'll work, or how much they'll cost.
Still, based on Apple's history with personal audio, this kind of premium over-ear offering is bound to be a hit.
Apple has built a reputation for making iconic headphones
Even before its HomePod speaker launched early last year, Apple was already one of the biggest producers of speakers in the world.
As of 2012, Apple had already shipped more than 1.2 billion speakers in the form of its wired earbuds, which came packaged with every iPod and iPhone. But that was before Apple redesigned its earbuds as "EarPods," and also before Apple introduced its hit AirPods in 2016.
In other words, Apple is no stranger to personal audio. And while people can argue about the sound quality of those devices, it's difficult to argue with the cultural impact of these devices. Apple's hardware designs for its earbuds, from the wired earbuds that shipped with the first iPods to the fully wireless AirPods, are iconic.
Of course, the designs aren't just pretty; they're functional. Apple's wired earbuds only had a few controls, which were easy to find and use without looking at them. AirPods also have clever wireless controls, including the ability to pause and resume playback when you remove one of your AirPods, or stop playback completely if both AirPods are removed. You can also customise your own touch controls for Siri, skipping tracks, and more.
The good news is, unlike AirPods, Apple doesn't need to necessarily reinvent (or re-innovate) the wheel in order to make a pair of over-ear headphones a smash hit.
As always, Apple's secret weapon is other Apple products
Even before they're announced, a pair of Apple headphones would have a lot of things going for it.
Apple has a built-in fanbase, and a solid reputation with consumer tech hardware.
Apple also has its magic W1 chip - the secret sauce to AirPods, allowing instant pairing to other Apple devices, strong battery life, and incredible range. I own AirPods, and I can walk around my apartment freely and continue to listen to music, no matter which room my devices are in.
But Apple also has something other companies don't have, and have been unable to replicate: the Apple ecosystem. The quality of each particular Apple product improves with every other Apple product you own.
Here's an example of how that works with AirPods: Most people will use them with their smartphone, like any other pair of Bluetooth headphones. But if you own an Apple TV, you can use your AirPods to watch movies or shows, and even use Siri to control playback, summon subtitles, and more. You can't do that with other wireless headphones.
I also switch my AirPods between multiple devices all the time. Sometimes they're paired to my iPhone, but when I'm at home, I might pair them to my MacBook Pro or Mac Mini. They also work great with the Apple Watch. Thanks to the Tooth Fairy app, pairing AirPods to any of my various Apple devices is just a single click away.
A pair of over-ear Apple headphones would have similar benefits to AirPods, just delivered in a different style. Many are expecting the standout feature of these devices to be noise-cancellation, a hallmark of most premium over-ear headphones.
It will be interesting to see if Apple can deliver on the fundamentals, but also go above and beyond to provide a truly different experience. Perhaps Apple will borrow a page from the defunct audio company Doppler Labs and let you choose which types of noises you want cancelled, like traffic or trains, while enhancing other types of sounds, like human voices.
But even if Apple's headphones aren't very different-looking, or if they don't have any futuristic features, you can still expect two things: they will be popular, and they will be expensive.
AirPods cost $160 (R2,190) at launch, but I wouldn't be surprised if these headphones cost $350 (R4,790) or more, which is around the current market price for top-of-the-line headphones. Apple hiked prices across the board in 2018, so it wouldn't be surprising to see that trend continue, particularly with a first-generation product in a popular space.
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