A few days ago, I was contemplating the product name for the “next level up” from the AirPods Max – and I think there will be a higher-end model in the future because Apple will need a more accessible (not $549) over-the-ear headphone to saturate the market after the initial round of AirPods Max hype dies down.

The idea here is the current AirPods Max would get a price cut and become “the mainstream headphone”, and a more expensive model with the latest technologies would occupy the $549 (or higher) price point. The question is whether this new model would be named “AirPods Max Pro” or “AirPods Pro Max”. I’m leaning towards AirPods Pro Max, so let me explain why.

When I first started thinking about this question, the obvious answer was AirPods Max Pro. The reasoning behind this is simple. The current headphone-style product is named AirPods Max, so the “pro” version of it should be “AirPods Max + Pro”, or AirPods Max Pro. Logically speaking, this makes sense.

However, it quickly starts not making sense when you consider Apple already has an iPhone named “iPhone 12 Pro Max”. For me, the presence of two sets of descriptors (“Pro Max” and “Max Pro”) that basically mirror each other is a big branding no-no – maybe Apple thinks differently. Imagine a customer going to the Apple Store and saying, “Hi, I’d like to buy an iPhone Pro Max and a pair of AirPods Max Pro… oh wait I mean AirPods Pro Max and iPhone Max Pro… is that right?” See where I’m going with this?

In the recent past, Apple has established a fairly standardized naming scheme – just “Product Name”, or “Product Name followed by Pro, Max, mini, etc. – or some combination of these descriptors”. An example of the former is HomePod or iMac, and an example of the latter is Mac mini or iPhone 12 Pro Max.

With this in mind, it would make sense for a future upgraded version of AirPods Max to be called AirPods Max Pro – “AirPods Max” is the product name, and “Pro” is the descriptor in this case. This here is the root of the issue. Apple messed up with its planning and naming of the AirPods line, and now they’ve painted themselves into a corner where “AirPods Max Pro” is the only logical name for the upgraded version of AirPods Max.

This is what I think I Apple should do.

  1. Rebrand the current AirPods to “AirPods mini”.
  2. Rebrand the current AirPods Pro to “AirPods”.
  3. Rebrand the current AirPods Max to “AirPods Pro”.
  4. Brand the future high end over-the-ear AirPods as “AirPods Pro Max”.

I think this makes sense for the following reasons.

  1. The current AirPods were perhaps revolutionary for their time, but they seem a little outdated now. If you asked me today, I think the anchor of the current AirPods lineup is AirPods Pro. In other words, I don’t see the current AirPods Pro as an upgraded version of AirPods. Instead, I see the current AirPods as a stripped down version of AirPods Pro – more specifically, a stripped down version that will be shipped with iPhones within 2-3 years. Thus, it makes sense to shift the anchor point of the AirPods line so that the current AirPods become AirPods mini.
  2. There’s nothing “Pro” about the current AirPods Pro – and this is by far my biggest gripe with Apple’s AirPods naming scheme. When I hear the word “Pro” in the context of personal listening equipment like earphones and headphones, my mind immediately jumps to over-the-ear models with wired connections, which AirPods Max do support via the Lightning to 3.5 mm cable. Think about when audio professionals use earphones or headphones – when they’re recording, monitoring, mixing, mastering, performing, etc. These are latency-sensitive situations where Bluetooth wireless headphones just wouldn’t work (even 5 ms of latency is noticeable when recording music). The fact that AirPods Pro are wireless-only means audio professionals can’t reliably use them for work. Since the current AirPods Max support wired connections, it’s the only product in the AirPods line I would consider to be “Pro”. Thus, I think AirPods Max are the real AirPods Pro.
  3. If AirPods Pro were the “lower-tier” over-the-ear headphones in the lineup, a future upgraded model could be called “AirPods Pro Max”, and this naming scheme would finally make sense! AirPods Pro would be a product that can be used for professional latency-sensitive audio applications, and AirPods Pro Max would be a maxed out version of AirPods Pro with higher-end components for professionals who demand more.

With this naming scheme, the most expensive AirPods product would be AirPods Pro Max, which is syntactically in line with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. So, not only would the AirPods lineup naming make sense from a product utility perspective (the over-the-ear model is the “Pro” one), it would also live in harmony with the iPhone lineup from a naming standpoint. What do you think about the product naming for Apple’s AirPods lineup? Do you like it, or do you think Apple messed up royally? Let me know via email or reach out to me on Twitter!

Update (December 13, 2020): Thinking about it more, I guess another option for the highest-end model is “AirPods Studio” (as was previously rumored). Though if the top model were over-the-ear headphones like AirPods Max, maybe “AirPods Max Studio” would make more sense.