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Third-gen AirPods could adopt new internal design, sell alongside second-gen model

Apple is reportedly poised to keep selling second-generation AirPods well into 2020, possibly alongside radically redesigned third-gen earbuds.

A printed circuit board supplier for second-gen AirPods, Unitech, is increasing its rigid-flex PCB shipments for the product with order visibility through early 2020, according to DigiTimes supply chain sources. Apple only released the buds in late March.

Current market speculation is that third-gen units will switch to a system-in-package (SiP) design, DigiTimes said. That might improve space efficiency by combing multiple components onto the same substrate — in theory Apple could even go a step further with a system-on-chip like the Apple Watch, but there have been no rumors to that effect.

Just recently analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted that two sets of AirPods will ship in late 2019 or early 2020 — one identical to the second-gen hardware, but another with a new form factor and higher price. Kuo pointed to it using SiP to improve not just space, but parts costs and yield rates. Unitech could lose money if Apple makes the shift, but if second-gen AirPods do remain on sale, there may be plenty of orders yet.

It's rumored that the higher-cost AirPods could include noise cancellation, in which case room might be used to offset power consumption with increased battery capacity. Ambient noise has been a common complaint about existing models, since they're not designed to isolate the ear canal.

Still other rumors have hinted at new health-related features, though whether or not they'll make it into third-gen AirPods is in question.