Health-tracking AirPods a next step for Apple as Google and Amazon race to imitate

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Apple may be looking at improving the AirPods with health monitoring features soon, but the company may face steep competition in that space, as Amazon and Google appear to be eyeing the same market.

In a note from TF International Securities seen by AppleInsider, Kuo writes "the AirPods are more than just earbuds for Apple and will become increasingly important" to the company. Users investing in AirPods is said to "increase the switching costs for users to Android from the iOS ecosystem," as while they can be used on Android devices, they're really meant for use on iPhones.

It is also an important device for Siri and other similar services, as AirPods "can easily enable the voice assistant" for the user while worn, without requiring a raising of the arm for the Apple Watch, nor having to pull out the iPhone or iPad for a query.

Kuo also notes the ear is a "perfect sensing area for detecting various health data," something Apple is looking into based on the various patents and applications that have surfaced featuring wireless earbuds with built-in biometric sensors. "It may integrate with the Apple Watch to offer better health management in the future," Kuo adds.

An earlier note suggests Apple will be bringing out an updated version of the AirPods with "wireless charging support" and a Bluetooth specification upgrade in the first quarter of 2019. A more pronounced revision is expected by Kuo to arrive in 2020.

While the future fitness-tracking AirPods may prove to be a popular device for Apple customers, Kuo warns Apple will face stuff competition in the field soon. Amazon and Google are said to be working with suppliers Goertek and Unitech on their own AirPod-like earpieces, in part due to the success of Apple's product.

Google and Amazon are thought to be the main competitors in the field due to Google being the "most influential brand in the Android ecosystem," while Amazon has "the best voice assistant service" according to the analyst. The Amazon and Google versions of AirPods are tipped to ship in the second half of 2019, with combined shipments of between 10 million and 20 million units.

This estimated shipment level may not be enough to counter Kuo's expectations for AirPod shipments. While shipments of up to 16 million and 28 million in 2017 and 2018 respectively seem reasonable, Kuo anticipates up to 55 million units shipping in 2019, 80 million by 2020, and up to 110 million AirPods shipped by 2021.