AirPods 3 upgrade with AirPods Pro design expected in early 2021

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AirPods Pro settings
Could AirPods 3 look just like AirPods Pro?
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Apple will introduce its third-generation AirPods buds featuring the same design as AirPods Pro during the first half of 2021, according to one reliable analyst.

The new wireless headphones could help drive a 28% increase in AirPods shipments next year. Apple’s rumored decision not to include free EarPods with iPhone 12 this fall could also contribute to the boost.

Apple’s most recent AirPods model have been a huge success (unsurprisingly), with shipments expected to reach 93.8 million units in 2020. AirPods Pro are said to be seeing “better-than-expected” demand, thanks to their new form factor and greater features, like noise cancellation.

Next year, that figure could rise to 120 million units, predicted reliable TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo on Monday.

AirPods 3 on the way

“We estimate that the AirPods shipments in 2021 will increase by 28% YoY to 120 mn units thanks to the new iPhone 12’s cancellation of in-box EarPods in 2H20 and the replacement demand of AirPods 3 in 1H21,” reads Kuo’s latest research note, obtained by Cult of Mac.

“We believe that AirPods 3’s new form factor design, which is similar to AirPods Pro, will benefit the replacement demand.”

That new design won’t be the only thing that sells new AirPods models, however. Kuo also expects Apple to offer some kind of “AirPods promotion programs” in late 2020 and early 2021. There are no details on these for now, but we could see AirPods offered at a discount when purchased with other Apple products — like a new iPhone or iPad.

Apple has already replaced Beats with AirPods in its latest Back to School promotion. Students and teachers get a free pair with the purchase of a new Mac or iPad.

Kuo does not mention Apple’s rumored plans for new on-ear headphones, which some have already dubbed “AirPods Studio.” Other reports have indicated they will arrive this year — perhaps with an unveiling alongside iPhone 12 this fall.