Apple Plans to Unveil Higher-End AirPods, New HomePod and Over-Ear Headphones in 2019

Apple Inc. is about to pump up the volume on its audio-device strategy, planning higher-end AirPods, a new HomePod and studio-quality over-ear headphones for as early as next year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Cupertino, California-based company is working on new AirPods with noise-cancellation and water resistance, the people said. Apple is trying to increase the range that AirPods can work away from an iPhone or iPad, one of the people said. You won’t be swimming in them though: The water resistance is mainly to protect against rain and perspiration, the people said.

Slated for 2019, the earbuds will likely cost more than the existing $159 pair, and that could push Apple to segment the product line like it does with iPhones, one of the people said. Apple is also working on a wireless charging case that’s compatible with the upcoming AirPower charger.

The company has also internally discussed adding biometric sensors to future AirPods, like a heart-rate monitor, to expand its health-related hardware offerings beyond the Apple Watch, another person said. The current AirPods will be refreshed later this year with a new chip and support for hands-free Siri activation, Bloomberg News reported.

There are over-ear headphones coming from Apple, too. Those will compete with pricey models from Bose Corp. and Sennheiser. They will use Apple branding and be a higher-end alternative to the company’s Beats line. Apple originally intended to introduce the headphones by the end of 2018, but has faced development challenges, and is now targeting a launch as early as next year, the people said. They asked not to be identified talking about unreleased products. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Shares of noise-cancellation component maker Cirrus Logic Inc. rose as much as 10 percent after Susquehanna analyst Christopher Rolland wrote that the company would be working with Apple on the new AirPods.

The consumer-electronics giant uses unique accessories like the AirPods to round out its hardware and software ecosystem. Accessories have become an important revenue source in recent years, helping Apple’s Other Products unit generate sales of $12.9 billion in the 2017 fiscal year. That’s cushioned a slowdown in iPhone unit growth.

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SOURCE: Bloomberg, Mark Gurman and Debby Wu