Gary Marshall goes panning in the river of rumour for nuggets of knowledge Apple wireless earbuds
It’s safe to say that Apple’s earbuds have their critics. Some people reckon they sound rubbish; others, that they fall out too easily, making them useless for exercising. And some people, such as your humble correspondent, find them excruciatingly uncomfortable. Recently revealed patents show that Apple might be addressing all of those things, and adding some additional good ideas too.
In US Patent Application 20150245129, filed last year, Apple described a “System and method of improving voice quality in a wireless headset with untethered earbuds of a mobile device”. The earbuds – which would be wireless, connecting via Bluetooth – would use sensors to monitor the user’s voice, the ambient noise around them and noises such as wind, and then they would adjust the sound to compensate. It’s rather like noise‑cancelling circuitry but a lot more detailed.
That’s not the only thing Apple wants to stick in your ears. Twin patents filed in late 2012, “Ear Presence Detection in Noise Cancelling Earphones” and “Electronic Devices and Accessories with Media Streaming Control Features”, describe sensors that can tell whether they’re in your ear or out, starting and stopping playback accordingly to ensure you don’t waste power on playing things you aren’t listening to. Apple has also been granted a patent for a “Sports monitoring system for headphones, earbuds and/or headsets”, biometric headphones that can detect your body temperature, your heart rate and even how much you’re sweating. Apple patent applications on earbud-based health sensors date back to 2007, which shows just how long the company has been thinking about all of this.
Of course, there’s no point in stuffing earbuds full of sensors if they fall out too easily or if they are so uncomfortable that you don’t want to wear them. That’s where US Patent Application US20140076657, “Invertible Ear Tips for an Ear Piece”, comes in. In the filing, Apple details how a ‘compliant element operative’ could be inserted in your ear “such that the compliant element deforms to retain the ear piece in the user’s ear.” In plain English, that means the earbuds would have a bendy bit so they don’t fall out. That sounds like a good idea to us.
There’s no point in stuffing earbuds full of sensors if they fall out easily or they’re too uncomfortable to wear.