A new year means a potentially all-new look for AirPods. Apple’s buds are due for a refresh, having launched in late 2016, and a steady drumbeat of reliable rumors, analyst predictions, and unearthed patents have already painted a picture of what the AirPods 2 could look like.
On Tuesday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple another series of 24 patents, one of which sketched out what appears to be a rather comprehensive overhaul to the AirPods charging case. This new design also comes with two new wireless charging features. The documents depict a case that can cordlessly charge itself and another device simultaneously, like, say, an Apple Watch.
Instead of its traditional rounded-edge shape, it seems that Apple is planning on giving this new case sharper edges and a reduced size. Based on the accompanying blueprints, it almost looks like a small ring box. But its most game-changing feature is its dual wireless charging capability: Particularly if Apple releases AirPower concurrently, consumers would soon have an array of options for keeping multiple devices charged, whether they have access to an outlet or not.
“Case 2300 can charge earbuds 115a, 115b in the same manner as case 100 discussed above (i.e., either with a wired connection or with a wireless power transfer system). Case 2300 can also, however, include an inductive charging system 2525 positioned and configured to charge a different portable electronic device positioned outside of case 2300 instead of within the case.”
There obviously haven’t been as many rumors about the new AirPods case as the new AirPods themselves, but this feature is hardly far-fetched. A wirelessly chargeable AirPods case was teased in 2017 with the announcement of Apple’s long-delayed AirPower charging mat. Making the case outlined in these patents would simply be a matter of adding another power transmitter and tweaking the case’s shape.
Plus, trusted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo expects a wireless charging case for the AirPods to be released in 2019, with an AirPods 2 launch set for 2019 or 2020. The other most trusted source for Apple leaks, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, has hinted that the AirPods 2 could be over-ear, an assumption that was recently buoyed by another recent batch of patents.
One hitch? The blueprints in Tuesday’s patents are clearly made for in-ear buds, which means their existence either contradicts Gurman’s prediction or the newly patented concept is for a device that would only work with the first-generation AirPods. Both seem possible. With the AirPower charging mat reportedly already in production, it seems safe to say that Apple has finally cracked the code on how to fit multiple wireless charging components into a single device. Translating the learnings into improvements for a legacy device would make a lot of sense, though, presumably, adding wireless charging to 2016 hardware would also make at least some consumers less excited about making an upgrade.
Whether Gurman’s sources got it wrong (or something changed) or whether this new device is destined to give the old AirPods second life will become much clearer come March, the likely time frame for the next product launch. Regardless, Apple’s wireless plan for a wireless future is finally taking shape.