Apple AirPods 2 release date, news and features

The long-awaited AirPods 2 are finally here, and according to Apple, they will deliver "faster connect times, more talk time, and the convenience of hands-free Siri."

The second generation AirPods 2 come with a standard charging case or an optional wireless charging case and are available to order on the Apple website or Apple Store app now, or from physical Apple Stores from at the end of March.

Apple AirPods 2: Cut to the chase

  • What are they? Apple's second generation true-wireless earbuds, now complete with wireless charging case options and hands-free Siri voice assistant access.
  • When are they out? The AirPods 2 are available to buy now from the Apple website, and the Apple Store app from today (March 20), and will be available to buy in physical Apple Stores early next week. 
  • How much will they cost? The AirPods 2 cost $159 (£159/AU$249/AED 679) with a standard charging case, or $199 (/£199/AU$319/AED 829) with a wireless charging case. Customers can also buy the wireless charging case separately for $79 (£79/AU$129/AED 329), and get either of the cases engraved for free during checkout on the website or Apple Store app. 

They follow the roll out of a new iPad Air (2019), iPad mini (2019), and a brand new iMac (2019), so the AirPods 2 represent the latest in a stream of new hardware launches from Apple. This is ahead of what we expect to be the March 25 video streaming launch event, which could to see the long-awaited arrival of a new Apple streaming service to rival Netflix.

We originally expected the AirPods 2 to be significantly different form their predecessors thanks to trademark and Bluetooth SIG filings, but judging from the official press release, this doesn't seem to be the case. Read on for all the details.

What's new with the AirPods 2?

Despite their divisive design, the Apple AirPods sold very well – you just have to jump on public transport and see just how many of them are poking out of music fans' ears on the way to work to note they've overcome any early online ridicule. 

At first glance, the new AirPods 2 look very similar to the original Apple AirPods. Again, they're completely cable-free, drawing battery from a pillbox-like charging case, with stem-like protrusions from the buds. But the next-gen improvements are under the hood.

First up is a newly-designed H1 chip which Apple has built specifically for the headphones. It improves connectivity pairing times, as well as the efficiency of the battery life, which Apple claims will give you 50% more hands-free talk time. The original AirPods offered five hours of use, with a total 24 hours of battery life when taking into consideration their charging case, for comparison. 

Beyond battery life, the most significant addition is that of hands-free "Hey Siri" functionality. Pop the AirPods 2 into your ears, and you'll be able to use the voice assistant command to place calls, change songs and more – basically anything Siri can do, direct from the AirPods 2, without needing to pull your iPhone out.

The AirPods 2 ship with a charging case, though Apple is also introducing a new Wireless Charging Case for the earbuds, using Qi-compatible charging mats to power the case without you having to stick a cable in. This is, presumably, in anticipation of the launch of Apple's long-awaited Air Power charging mat. The new Wireless Charging Case will also be compatible with the first-generation AirPods.

As for sound quality, Apple has yet to reveal any differences between the generations. We'll update you on how the AirPods 2 sound once we've given them a listen.

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AirPods 2 price and availability

The AirPods 2 are available now, priced at $159 / £159 / AU$249 / AED679 with the standard charging case, and $199 / £199 / AU$319 / AED829 with the new Wireless Charging Case bundled in. 

The Wireless Charging Case can also be bought separately for $79 / £79 / AU$129 / AED329. 

If you're feeling particularly swish, you can add a personal engraving to the cases at checkout on Apple.com.

What didn't make the cut

Previous trademark filings suggested that the second generation AirPods would be a health and fitness device, in addition to being a pair of true wireless earbuds.

Back in July 2018 Apple filed a patent for biometric sensors which would allow the AirPods 2 to take on fitness tracking capabilities like those seen in the Jabra Elite Wireless. This followed another patent filed in March, which further fuelled the rumors.

But Apple hasn't made any mention of any biometric features in the new AirPods 2, so it's likely either Apple changed course over the development of the AirPods 2, or is holding some features back for another iteration further down the line. 

We also heard separately that the AirPods 2 would come in black and white, be both waterproof and offer active noise-cancellation. Another patent from July suggested that Apple was working on some pretty nifty tech for how the earbuds handle outside noise as well as dissipating pressure from inside the ear canal. 

The patent outlined a valve system that would allow sound to escape your ear canal to avoid that weird reverberating effect that occurs when you speak with earbuds in your ears. 

It then goes on to describe how the earbuds would handle ambient noise, using a microphone to filter in noise from the outside world so that you can remain aware of your surroundings while still hearing your music. 

But these rumors also don't appear to have manifested in the final product.

Apple also hasn't made any mention of improved sound quality, but we will let you know how they sound as soon as we get our hands on them.

One rumor that did prove to be accurate however was wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.0 - but instead of being an improved thanks to an updated W2 chip, Apple has designed a brand new H1 chip, which is made for headphones specifically.

  • Need something now? Here are the best truly wireless AirPod alternatives around

Now that the AirPods 2 have been officially launched, we can see that there are a few rumored features that haven't made the cut.

Here's what we felt was lacking in the original AirPods, and were originally hoping to see in the new generation:

Noise-cancellation

Only a couple of years ago, companies were struggling just to get true wireless earbuds working, but now the goalposts have already shifted to packing more and more functionality into their shells. 

The Sony WF-1000X manage to include noise-cancellation technology inside their diminutive shells, and we were hoping see similar functionality make it to the second generation of AirPods. 

Apple’s fancy ambient noise technology outlined above suggested the company is thinking along these lines, but it looks like it never made the final cut.0

Physical controls

Apple isn’t much of a fan of buttons, but there are some cases where they save you a lot of time and effort, and headphones are one of these instances. 

On-board controls have become an almost essential feature in headphones in recent years, allowing us to control music playback and volume without having to struggle to get our phones out of our pockets. 

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Now the AirPods did allow you to control music in a sense, but they relied entirely on Siri, Apple’s voice assistant. 

On the one hand Siri is much more powerful than the usual button controls by allowing you to request specific songs, for example.

But on the other hand, Siri comes with some pretty big limitations. It doesn’t work without a Wi-Fi connection, it can only play music from Apple Music (so not Spotify), and probably most problematic of all is the fact that it forces you to speak out loud to control anything - hardly ideal if you want to listen to music on the bus. 

The original AirPods already had a touch-sensitive control for activating Siri, so we’d like to see this extended to controlling music directly. The BeoPlay E8’s have shown how this can be done with simple tap controls, and we felt it was time for Apple to follow suit – unfortunately the tech giant has declined to add touch controls for music. 

That being said, having "Hey Siri" functionality should make controlling music with the AirPods 2 easier than the originals. 

Changeable ear tips

Apple likes to rely wholly on sleek white plastic, but we weren’t a fan of the lack of rubber tips on the original AirPods, especially when there’s no cable to catch them if they fall.

We want any true wireless earbuds to feel nice and secure in the ears, and including a number of changeable ear tips so we can select those that perfectly fit our ears would be the ideal way of achieving this. 

One individual in the TechRadar office even went to the length of fixing some rubber tips from an alternative pair of headphones onto their AirPods to make them feel more secure. 

We weren't expecting Apple to change it's rather rigid design aesthetic, and it hasn't with the AirPods 2.

Better Android pairing

Given that Apple likes to ensure all its products are designed to work as a family this has little chance of happening, but we’d love to see the AirPods play slightly nicer with Android phones. Advertisement

On iPhones, pairing is a dream. You simply hold the AirPods near your phone and they connect more or less automatically. 

However with Android the process is a lot more complicated and involving jumping into settings menus to select the AirPods manually. We’d love to see Apple simplify this process for the AirPods 2, though we're not holding our breath.

Different designs and colors 

We get it, Apple likes white things. But in an era where iPhones and iPads are available in a range of different colors we’d love to see this same courtesy extended to the AirPods. 

We just want our headphones to match our phone and our Apple Watch; is that so much to ask?

Although Apple has experimented with different colors for its various devices, its earbuds have always stayed the same iconic white, and the AirPods 2 have followed suit, despite rumors of a black version. 

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