There was a lot to get excited about at this year's WWDC, from the new Macs to the finally unveiled Apple Vision Pro (whose name perhaps needs re-workshopping, although we’re now likely to see Vision Pro devices for the next 10 years if all goes well). There were also some slightly underwhelming updates, in the form of iOS 17, iPadOS 17, and MacOS 14. The focus lay this year on Widgets, and not much else – unless, that is, you own a pair of AirPods Pro.
Where iPhone users and iPad users get a few useful new features and Mac owners are placated with widgets on their desktops, AirPods users are getting some genuinely very cool new audio features that might just change the way we view noise canceling, and how we wear our earbuds. Best of all, it looks like we’ll be getting the upgrades for free too — provided you’ve got a compatible pair of AirPods to use them with.
The ‘adaptive’ updates
There was a pretty tasty little segment dedicated to the AirPods Pro at the show, and it gave us some cool views into how we’re going to use our AirPods and the noise canceling inside them going forwards. Apple says it's going to ‘redefine the personal audio experience’, and while the announcement was hidden amongst new Macs and headsets that look like they’re from an oddly rendered version of Cyberpunk, Apple dropped some big hints as to what it thinks we need from a pair of ANC earbuds.
Coming this fall, the new update will focus on blocking out noise you don’t want to hear, and letting the noise you do want to hear in. It’s almost like a hybrid form of noise canceling and transparency mode, as the headphones are able to focus on both unwanted and needed noise. The unwanted noise would be traffic, bus engines, train hubbub, and the like. The needed noise would be voices, conversations, near-collision car horns, and other sounds necessary to your daily life.
Apple is calling the feature ‘Adaptive Audio’, and it's a collection of different tweaks to how AirPods noise canceling and transparency features work. There’s conversation awareness first and foremost, which will hear your voice and recognize when you want to have a conversation with someone. There’s also Personalized volume, which will use machine learning to adjust the volume depending on the environment in which you and your AirPods find yourselves. There are other updates, but these are some of the most important.
Why they’re going to change the game
ANC is great. It’s like wrapping yourself in your own little cocoon of sound and music, giving you some space in a busy world to relax and decompress. It also blocks out pretty much everything around you – so you might miss someone telling you that your train has reached its stop, or a loudspeaker announcement that tells you that your changeover has changed train station platforms. Ask me how I know. Ask me.
This new hybrid form of noise canceling will get rid of this issue, hopefully with some grace. Block out the noise you don’t want – the stuff that’s annoying the stuff that’s grim to the ear, engines, traffic, city noise. But let the stuff you need in – helpful bystanders, doorbells… station announcements. It remains to be seen if it will work as advertised, but until then, it looks like it’s one of the quietest parts of the WWDC 2023 show that should have been the loudest. But then it would’ve beaten out Apple Vision Pro, wouldn’t it?
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As the Buying Guides and Deals writer for iMore, Tammy puts over a decade of experience in finding the best prices of Apple products to work, helping you save money on the equipment that you want. An audiophile at heart, she loves all things audio and visual, but you’ll also find her drooling over the latest Macs and MacBooks. With a Masters in screenwriting, Tammy likes to spend her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays or driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.