Apple’s been working on AirPods Max since the first-gen AirPods shipped

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AirPods Max will set you back $549.
AirPods Max sport an over-ear design with top-quality audio, Active Noise Cancellation, spatial audio, and more.
Photo: Apple

The AirPods Max headphones may have only been announced this week, but Apple’s been working on them since the first-gen AirPods shipped back in 2016.

This interesting tidbit comes from a (now deleted) tweet from Dinesh Dave, currently a product designer at Facebook, but previously a Senior Interactive Designer at Apple. While no-one expects hit products to be created overnight, it gives a sense of how far out Apple’s working in its product roadmap.

In a tweet Wednesday, Dave posted a picture of the AirPods Max. He noted that this was the last (previously unreleased) product he worked on at Apple covered by an NDA (non-disclosure agreement.) These standard issue forms effectively stop him from talking about products being worked on. Since the tweet was deleted, it may be safe to say that talking about them after they’ve been released is also questionable terrain.

Four years in the making

Another Twitter user asked Dave how long ago he signed the NDA. He replied that it was around four years ago. That would have dated it to the end of 2016. (And who knows how early in the process he was told about the plans?)

The original AirPods were released on December 13, 2016. At the time, they looked radically different to other earbuds to the point that they were subject of plenty of online mockery. No-one’s laughing four years on. They’re all too busy either buying AirPods or, if they’re a business rival, copying them. The AirPods are one of the Apple’s top-selling products.

Four years isn’t a crazy amount of time when you consider ideation, design, prototyping, engineering and the various stages of manufacturing. Nonetheless, it does make you appreciate just how long it takes a product like this to get to market. Simply put, Apple plans things years in advance. Great products don’t just get thrown together as a last-minute holiday boost to the company’s product portfolio.

Which makes me wonder: What NDAs are Apple employees signing now for tantalizing products that will ship in Q4 2024?