For the past few months, rumors about the next-gen AirPods have been pretty consistent—they’re going to have shorter stems and crib some design elements from the AirPods Pro. But a new Bloomberg report is finally giving us something fresh to chew on. When the next-gen AirPods Pro arrive sometime in 2022, they’ll reportedly have fitness tracking features.
Citing anonymous Apple sources, Bloomberg claims the new AirPods Pro will include “updated motion sensors” that have a “focus on fitness tracking.” Apple has also purportedly tested a smaller design for the AirPods Pro that eliminates the stem altogether—a look that the company may debut with new Beats wireless earbuds that will likely drop next month. (You know, the ones LeBron James was supposedly spotted wearing in a recent Instagram post.) The report also reiterates the entry-level AirPods will have a new case and… you guessed it, shorter stems.
Fitness features in earbuds are not a new concept. Jabra, Bose, and JBL have all released sports-focused earbuds with heart rate monitoring and an element of virtual coaching in the past. They just never took off as they were not only more expensive than your average fitness earbud but also finicky. Heart rate monitoring earbuds need to be perfectly fitted to get readings—one of the major downsides of hearable tech as people’s ears vary much more widely than their wrists.
Surprisingly, the Bloomberg report makes no mention of heart rate monitoring with regard to the rumored AirPods Pro fitness tracking features but instead mentions updated motion sensors. That seems to hint at some sort of automatic activity tracking or perhaps distance and speed coaching for sports like running and cycling. It’s also possible that adding a fitness focus to the AirPods Pro is another way of Apple hooking users into its services via a gadget. Case in point, Apple’s Fitness+ service is designed around showcasing the Apple Watch, while also subtly encouraging users to get an iPad or Apple TV so they can watch the on-demand workouts on a bigger screen. The Apple Watch already works pretty seamlessly with AirPods, so this could be another way of adding yet another compatible device to the Fitness+ mix.
You also can’t rule out potential health features in the future. At CES 2020 and 2021, Valencell, a wearable components maker, hinted that PPG sensors (the same ones that measure heart rate) in earbuds could be used to accurately measure blood pressure without the need for cuffs.
In any case, you can read this as Apple doubling down on wearables. While the company lumps its wearables revenue with its home and accessories products, that entire category has rapidly grown in recent years. According to Bloomberg, it accounts for more than $30 billion in annual revenue for Apple or more than 10% of its sales. When you piece all this together, the possibility of fitness-focused features on AirPods isn’t all that surprising. We’ll just have to wait and see what form it takes.