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For the third time this week, Apple has quietly launched an updated product line via press release. First, it was new and improved versions of iPad Air and iPad mini; next, an updated eight-core processor for the iMac; and now, the second generation of its popular wireless earbuds.
AirPods have been a real sleeper hit since their release in 2016. Last year showed a 500% year-on-year increase in sales as the world went AirPods crazy, embracing the fact that the tiny in-ear headphones are one of the best accessories Apple has made in years.
Now, AirPods v2 make some significant improvements to the formula without the kind of wholesale changes that would see users throwing their first-gen ‘pods in the trash.
The most significant change is the addition of a brand-new “H1” wireless chip, designed specifically for use with headphones. (We’d expect the Apple-owned Beats line to start using H1 in the near future, too). This chip provides a range of improvements to connectivity and performance, including more stable connections and faster hot-swapping between devices. The new AirPods also offer lower latency for gaming, faster connection time for phone calls, and – perhaps most notably – access to an always-on “Hey Siri” function.
Meanwhile, Apple has made improvements to the charging case, which now offers enough charge for more than 24 hours of listening time – that’s around 50% longer than the previous generation. There is now a wireless charging case available which uses the standard Qi charging protocol, which means it can be recharged on the same charging pads that work with recent iPhones. This addition also paves the way for Apple to finally release its AirPower charging mat later this year, which would be the first wireless charger capable of powering three distinct devices at once. (iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods).
Design-wise, nothing has changed, and there’s also no mention of some of the other improvements that were rumored last month. Previous reports suggested AirPods 2 would deliver better bass response, heart rate sensors in each bud, a specialized grip coating, and an alternate black finish. None of those features seem to have made the cut, however, let alone the waterproofing some users were hoping for. The waterproofing was perhaps too much to ask, but it’s a little disappointing not to see any other changes.
However, the connectivity improvements are a very welcome addition to a product that’s already a cut above the competition when it comes to ease of use, and there’s no denying this update makes AirPods even more compelling. Especially as Apple is keeping the pricing the same as the previous version at $159/£159 – though it will charge a premium if you want the wireless charging case. That comes in a $199/£199 bundle with the pods themselves, or is sold separately for $79/£79 if you just want to update your case and keep your first-gen AirPods.
These new AirPods are available for order immediately, having already superseded the previous version on the Apple Store website.
Apple is clearly doing its best to get these smaller product announcements out of the way this week. Sounds like it has a lot planned for its big TV event on Monday and doesn’t want anything else to share the spotlight!