Apple has an idea that could make future AirPods much smarter about sensing your surroundings

Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • A recently published Apple patent describes a contextual audio system that could enable AirPods to automatically adjust their output depending on your surroundings or current activity.
  • If you're standing by the side of the road, for example, the system may lower or mute audio in one ear so that you can remain aware of nearby traffic.
  • Patents shouldn't be interpreted as concrete evidence that a product or feature is in development, but it does provide some indication as to what types of technologies Apple may be experimenting with.
  • The patent is surfacing after Apple announced it would bring spatial audio to the AirPods Pro with its iOS 14 update.

Apple could be experimenting with new ways to make AirPods much more helpful — and safe — to use in crowded environments.

A recently published patent, first spotted by Apple Insider, details a contextual audio system that could enable future AirPods to adjust their audio accordingly depending on a user's location. The document does not specifically mention AirPods by name but does refer to a "wearable audio device" and "earbuds," suggesting that Apple likely had its wireless earbuds in mind for this feature.

The tech described in the patent would allow a device like AirPods to determine a user's location and activity and change the audio accordingly. For example, if a person is standing on the side of the road with headphones in, the system may pause, mute, or lower the volume of audio playing through the left ear, since people typically walk with their left side to the road. The right earbud could remain unaffected in this scenario.Advertisement

The document also describes how earbuds could be used in conjunction with another wearable device, like an Apple Watch, to gather data about your whereabouts and adjust the audio accordingly.

A patent doesn't serve as evidence that a feature is in development; Apple and other tech companies frequently patent new technologies and capabilities that have yet to arrive in products. But it does indicate that the company may at least be thinking about or experimenting with such technologies.

A feature that automatically adjusts audio depending on your surroundings would fall in line with some of the new capabilities Apple has recently introduced to AirPods. In iOS 14, the iPhone's new software update launching in the fall, Apple is bringing spatial audio to the AirPods Pro, for example. That means the AirPods Pro will be capable of tracking your heads' movement and applying directional audio filters to make it seem like sounds are being placed all around you, much like a movie theater experience.
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The patent has also surfaced as Apple is rumored to be working on several new audio products. The company is said to be working on a pair of high-end over-ear headphones to rival the likes of Sennheiser and Bose, according to reports from Bloomberg and reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

Apple is also rumored to be working on a new pair of standard AirPods that have a similar look and feel as the AirPods Pro, according to Kuo's predictions.
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