In a brief research note highlighting Apple's suppliers for its popular AirPods wireless earphones, noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts that new AirPods with a wireless charging case
will debut in the first quarter of 2019, with an "all-new design model" following in the first quarter of 2020. The updates are predicted to drive strong sales growth for the product.
We attribute AirPods' dramatic growth (14–16mn, 26–28mn, 50–55mn, 70–80mn and 100–110mn units in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively) to 1) the upgraded model with wireless charging support to benefit shipments to launch in 1Q19, 2) the all-new design model to boost replacement demand to launch in 1Q20, 3) an innovative user experience, and 4) high integration with iOS and Mac products. In summary, AirPods is Apple's most popular accessory ever, and it currently has the best growth momentum among Apple products.
Kuo notes that fewer than 5 percent of iPhone users currently own AirPods, and with over 1 billion iPhone users worldwide, there are "great potential growth opportunities" for the accessory.
Nearly a year ago, Kuo predicted Apple would launch upgraded AirPods
in the second half of 2018, but Apple's difficulties in bringing its AirPower charging mat to market have undoubtedly impacted its AirPods plans to some degree. Just ahead of Apple's October media event, Kuo noted he was uncertain about the timing
for an AirPods update, indicating it could come late in the fourth quarter or early in the first quarter of 2019.