Alongside new iPhones and Apple Watches, Apple is releasing a new version of its AirPods Pro this month.
The 2nd Generation AirPods Pro with USB-C — a mouthful of a model name — don’t have any radical hardware changes. Apple replaced the proprietary Lightning port with a USB-C charger to match the rest of its lineup.
But a slew of software features launching alongside the new AirPods significantly change how noise-canceling on the wireless buds works in practice, and will make it much easier for AirPods Pro users to leave their earbuds in all day while navigating cities or talking to co-workers.
Apple has given the new features various names — Adaptive Audio, Conversation Awareness, Personalized Volume — but taken together, and using the default settings on a review unit of the new $249 AirPods, the upshot is that the device uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to turn down music when in a conversation or allow necessary nearby sounds into the headphones.
Instead of taking out your AirPods or turning off noise-canceling entirely when you’re navigating a treacherous street or having a conversation with a co-worker, users can now leave in their AirPods and rely on Apple’s software to intelligently decide what the user needs to hear.
Overall, the improvements are subtle but nice. They’re not a reason to upgrade AirPods if you have an older pair that’s working perfectly, but they are worth reaching for if you are getting new wireless headphones and know you don’t like to be constantly taking them in and out.
However, from a technological perspective, the new AirPods are exciting. Apple is using cutting-edge technology and its own customized chips to filter the world of sound through Apple’s hardware, and to augment or mute individual sounds to make your daily experience better, all powered by AI. Apple’s headphones are going far beyond the simple on-or-off noise-canceling features on competing devices.
The concept is not that far away from the “spatial computing” Apple introduced with the Vision Pro VR headset, which uses machine learning to integrate the real and computer worlds. Apple calls the AirPods a “wearable,” and reports it in the same revenue category as its Apple Watch. With its new adaptive features, the AirPods are more wearable than ever, and continue to be one of the company’s most intriguing product lines in terms of a look at the future of computing, even if they don’t get the same attention as the iPhone.