Shipments of Apple Inc’s popular AirPods wireless earphones are expected to double to 60 million units this year, people familiar with the Cupertino-based company’s production plans said.
This has been driven in part by “much higher” than expected demand for the pricier AirPods Pro model unveiled last month.
The US$249 AirPods Pro — which offer noise cancellation and water resistance — have surpassed expectations and demand for them is pushing Apple’s assembly partners against capacity and technical constraints, a person familiar with the matter said.
Multiple suppliers are competing for the business of manufacturing the Pro earphones, although some are still building up the technical proficiency. There is currently a wait time of two to three weeks for the AirPods Pro on Apple’s US Web site.
The most advanced form of wireless headphones is called “true wireless,” defined by the absence of a wire not just between the headphones and the music source but also between the two earbuds — and the AirPods are the category-leading example.
Taiwan-based Inventec Corp (英業達) and China’s Luxshare Precision Industry Co (立訊精密) and Goertek Inc (歌爾聲學) manufacture the AirPods for Apple.
Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment on the product’s shipments.
The pickup in AirPods sales this year has been helped by the launch of two new iterations: the Pro model last month and a US$199 upgraded version of the original in March. The first AirPods were released in 2016.
The runway is also mostly clear for Apple to have a successful holiday season, with Microsoft Corp delaying its rival true wireless buds until spring and Google also not launching its new model until next year.
At the end of August, Apple was the clear leader in the global true wireless earphones market, Counterpoint Research said.
AirPods shipments have dwarfed every alternative and the Beats Powerbeats Pro, another Apple product, also feature in the top 10 sellers.
While Samsung Electronics Co’s Galaxy Buds have emerged as a recognizable competitor, Apple moreover ranked as the most preferred brand for future purchases of true wireless headphones in the US, the researchers said.
“Apple also edged rivals because true wireless as a category is the preferred choice over wireless earphones, due to factors such as better sound quality, portability, and ease of use,” Counterpoint analyst Pavel Naiya wrote on Sept. 26.
Wearables such as the AirPods and Apple Watch have become a crucial growth driver for Apple, which is adapting to plateauing iPhone demand in a mature smartphone market.
In the past quarter, Apple’s iPhone sales shrunk to US$33.4 billion from the prior year’s US$36.8 billion, whereas the wearables, home and accessories segment — composed of the Apple Watch, AirPods, Beats, HomePod and Apple TV groups — generated US$6.5 billion in revenue, growing 54 percent.
If the overall AirPods range hits 60 million units this year as is now expected, Apple should retain its 50 percent share of the true wireless market, which Counterpoint expects to surpass 120 million shipments for the year.
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