Gary Mar­shall goes pan­ning in the river of ru­mour for nuggets of knowl­edge Ap­ple wire­less ear­buds

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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.

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