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Apple launches $549 new AirPods Max to boost holiday sales; delivery times face delays

(Reuters) -Apple Inc on Tuesday unveiled its new AirPods Max, a set of wireless over-ear headphones, at $549 apiece, pricier than some of its other popular phone and tablet products, in a measure aimed at boosting sales over the December holiday period.

The new AirPods, which will have up to 20 hours battery life, will be shipped starting next Tuesday, Apple said. But less than 12 hours after Apple announced the products, shipping times for U.S. customers had stretched past a dozen weeks, according to review of Apple’s website, pushing arrival times well into 2021.

Because over-ear headphones create a seal around the ear, they are capable of delivering higher audio quality than in-ear devices and remain the standard form factor in professional studios. The AirPods Max model will compete with high-end headphones such as Bose’s Noise Cancelling 700 units, which retail for $340 with holiday discounts.

At $549, AirPods Max headphones are more expensive than Apple’s entry-level iPhone, iPad and Watch models. The company also said Tuesday that pricing for its base, in-ear AirPods model and AirPods Pro model would remain the same at $159 and $249, respectively.

The company said the AirPods Max contains nine microphones and two of its H1 chips, Apple’s custom-designed audio processor. The microphones help reduce wind noise on phone calls, provide noise cancellation and also adjust audio levels in real time using microphones inside the ear cups.

The company’s last quarter results showed a rise in sales in its accessories unit, even as revenue from its flagship iPhones dropped 20.7%, the steepest quarterly drop in two years. For the company’s fiscal 2020, accessories sales were up 16% at $53.8 billion, while iPhone sales were down 3% at $137.8 billion.

Apple had launched its newest iPhone range with faster 5G connectivity in October, a month later than its usual September release, due to pandemic-linked delays.

The company also said Apple Fitness+, its $10 per month fitness subscription service, will be launched on Dec. 14. Shares of Peloton Interactive Inc, which also offers virtual fitness classes, were down 2% in before-market trading.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil and Ayanti Bera in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Bernadette Baum and Sonya Hepinstall

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