What next for Apple’s hard-to-get AirPods?
A newly published Apple patent might point to AirPods’ future form
Plus, Apple gets the go‑ahead for 5G testing.
Even as Apple’s AirPods continue to suffer from stock shortages – the estimated shipping time for a pair has only just dropped from six weeks to four – it may be that the company is already in the planning stages of a new version.
A newly published patent application from Apple describes an “in-ear speaker hybrid audio transparency system.” This would enable the earphone wearer to selectively mute or amplify ambient sounds while still listening to audio – with the added benefit of eliminating the somewhat unpleasant echoey effect you experience when speaking while wearing headphones.
Headphones with this so-called “audio passthrough” technology aren’t new, though at the moment they’re generally confined to the more expensive end of the market. This is largely due to the complexity of adding both a microphone and sound processing technology to filter external sound, which in turn
increases the power requirements of such headphones.
Apple’s patent takes a somewhat different approach, however. Instead of the earpiece being completely sealed and thus blocking off the wearer’s ear canal entirely – which partly causes that echoing effect as sound bounces around in the ear canal – its headphones would incorporate a physical valve, driven by an armature, which could be opened or closed as needed.
Thus, if the user was speaking on the phone, the valve could be open in order to enable sounds to “leak” from the ear canal; then, out on the street, it could be closed to eliminate ambient noise.
The patent goes on to describe how this process could be automated based on, for example, whether the Phone app is currently active, or if motion-sensing data indicates the user is running – in which case it would be safer to have some ambient noise filtering in. Such noise could, according to the patent, be digitally altered and equalized, so that it sounds like the user is not wearing headphones at all.
Of course, as with all technology patents, the fact this one has been filed doesn’t necessarily indicate a product will follow. Interestingly, though, while the patent was only published in July this year, the original application was submitted back in January 2016 – so it’s feasible that development of a real product which uses the tech is further along than might first seem likely.