Apple's recently released AirPods Pro are looking like a holiday hit.
Apple has asked its suppliers to double monthly production of AirPods Pro, according to Nikkei Asian Review, signaling strong demand for the wireless earbuds, a category that Apple already dominates. And Wedbush analyst Dan Ives estimated on Friday that Apple could sell more than three million Air Pods in total over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, based on Apple store checks, reported shortages at various retailers and reduced prices for AirPods 2.
The premium AirPod Pro sell for $249, about $90 more than the base version of AirPods, but feature noise cancellation technology and three sizes of silicone ear tips geared at better fit, among other features. Apple asked Chinese manufacturer Luxshare-ICT to boost production of the AirPods from 1 million units per month to "at least" 2 million, Nikkei reported.
The noise cancellation tech serves as a particularly strong draw, said Zev Fima, an analyst with Jim Cramer's Action Alerts Plus portfolio.
"[We] believe it could serve to incentivize upgrades in a way the second iteration couldn't, or bring new users that place heavy importance on noise cancellation into the fold," Fima said.
Thanks in part to strong holiday activity, sales of AirPods could be a bigger-than-expected contributor to Apple's fourth quarter: Bloomberg reported last week that that AirPod shipments could reach 60 million units in 2019, driven by unexpectedly strong demand for the Pro version, which went on sale in late October.
With iPhone upgrade cycles growing longer, some of Apple's loyal user base may be looking to upgrade to the latest and greatest accessories in lieu of buying a new phone.
"While AirPods today are on a trajectory to represent ~4%+ of overall revenues, this product category continues to speak to the unparalleled flywheel that Cook and Cupertino have with 900 million+ iPhones worldwide under its belt and 1.4 billion+ active devices to tap into worldwide and thus further monetize through products/services as we continue to see with the Apple Watch as well," wrote Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives in a note on Wednesday afternoon. Ives projects that Apple is on pace to sell over 65 million AirPods this year, and potentially 85 million to 90 million units in 2020.
Apple has highlighted the success of its wearables business, a category that also includes the Apple Watch, in recent quarters. For the third quarter, Apple reported growth of 54% in its Wearables, Home and Accessories, at $6.52 billion.
Although iPhone sales remain central to Apple's overall financial performance, progress in higher-margin wearables and services is positive news for investors. In August, Apple analyst Neil Cybart of Above Avalon forecast that by the end of next year, wearables will surpass both the iPad and Mac to become the third-largest category by revenue, behind iPhone sales and services.
The iPhone giant is also the dominant player in the fast-growing wireless earbud, or "hearables," market, with just over 50% market share as of September 2019. Samsung (SSNLF) is a distant second, with 10% market share.
Amazon recently rolled out Echo Buds, a $130 wireless earbud with Bose noise reduction technology and Alexa built in. Microsoft also recently announced the Surface Earbuds, an earbud oriented towards productivity that integrates with Microsoft's Office suite and features translation capabilities. But it has delayed the availability of the product until spring of 2020.