When Apple previews the upcoming version of iOS at WWDC, users expect to see new features that will enhance their iPhone experience. However, it’s not common for the company to update its wireless earbuds at the same time. But this year, alongside the arrival of iOS 17, Apple has introduced a firmware update that adds several new features to the second-generation AirPods Pro. These features will automatically adjust to your environment or activity so that you don’t have to touch the earbuds or reach for your phone.
The most significant addition is Adaptive Audio, a tool that blends transparency mode and active noise cancellation (ANC) based on your surroundings. Apple explains that this feature changes the noise control settings continuously throughout the day, making the necessary adjustments as you move to different settings. Using computational audio and machine learning algorithms powered by the H2 chip in the AirPods Pro, the earbuds can differentiate between consistent and transitory noise. The technology also accounts for whether you’re stationary or in motion and adjusts accordingly, whether you’re listening to music or taking a call. The goal is for these adjustments to happen seamlessly, without you even noticing. Adaptive Audio gradually tweaks the blend of ANC and transparency when there’s a change in your surroundings. For example, if you enter a loud coffee shop or sit near a noisy air conditioning unit, the AirPods Pro will increase the level of noise cancellation to combat the noise. The transition is designed to be smooth and not jarring.
Apple has redesigned the Control Center in iOS 17 to make it easier to access and control the new features. Users can access Adaptive Audio as well as transparency mode, ANC, and off settings through the updated Control Center. Additionally, Apple has introduced a new feature called Personalized Volume, which uses machine learning to fine-tune the media experience based on environmental conditions and listening preferences over time. Although it’s too early to determine the effectiveness of this feature after only a few days of testing, it’s meant to further enhance the hands-off adjustment capabilities of the AirPods Pro as users move from one place to another.
Another noteworthy addition is Conversation Awareness, which automatically lowers the volume or pauses media and focuses on voices in front of you when you start talking. This feature reduces background noise and ensures that you can have quick conversations without having to manually pause or adjust the volume. Unlike similar features on other devices, Conversation Awareness reduces volume instead of completely stopping the audio, making the transition less jarring. The volume returns to its previous level a few seconds after the AirPods Pro no longer detect your voice or the person you’re speaking to. This feature can be disabled if desired through the AirPods Pro settings.
The second-generation AirPods Pro with the H2 chip are the only models that have access to these new features. However, Apple has made improvements to other AirPods models as well. Automatic switching between devices has been improved, allowing for faster and more reliable changeover between different Apple devices. This update requires iPadOS 17 and/or macOS Sonoma, depending on the devices you own. While the author was unable to test this feature, Apple claims that the improvement in automatic switching is significant.
Apple has also added a mute function to all the latest AirPods models (including both models of AirPods Pro and AirPods Max). Users can simply press the stem or the Digital Crown on AirPods Max to mute or unmute themselves during calls. A banner and chime provide visual and auditory cues, indicating the microphone state. This functionality is not limited to Apple’s native calling apps but can be implemented by developers in popular video- and voice-calling apps like Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat.
Overall, Apple’s updates to the AirPods Pro firmware have expanded the capabilities of the earbuds, reducing the need for physical button presses and enhancing the overall user experience. These new features, including Adaptive Audio, Personalized Volume, and Conversation Awareness, provide a more seamless and hands-free interaction with the earbuds. The firmware update is now available in the iOS 17 public beta, and users can expect the official release later today.