Apple’s patents give strong clues as to what the company is going to reveal next. So, the AirPods (or AirPods Pro) patent that has just been published may tell us what Apple has planned for users of its popular in-ear headphones. And it comes in the same week as rumors of a new virtual exercise service from the company.
What’s more, the patent lets slip that Apple may have an all-new accessory in mind to work with the AirPods or AirPods Pro. The patent doesn’t say which version of Apple headphones it might apply to.
Here’s what we know.
The patent, spotted by Patently Apple, focuses on a contextual audio system, “to adjust audio playback in response to positional data”. It may employ a wearable audio device, such as headphones, say, and “optionally a sensing device”.
Although published in the last few days, the patent was originally filed in March 2019, indicating Apple has had time to work on it so it could be ready soon.
And how do we know the patent is related to fitness and health aspects? That’s easy. The patent gives it away in the very first sentences: one of the inventors is Jay Blahnik, Senior Director of Fitness for Health technologies at Apple.
Blahnik is passionate to his fingertips about health, dedicated to improving the fitness capabilities in Apple products, renowned for teaching classes that routinely sell out and only weighed down, one imagines, by the awards with which he has been garlanded over the years.
See his name on a patent and you know without reading any further that it’ll be health-focused.
The patent is designed to change the audio output in response to data received. This can be achieved through different systems such as “the wearable audio device is a first earbud; the contextual audio system further comprises a second earbud in communication with at least one of the first earbud or the sensing device; the sensing device is one of a smart watch or a smart telephone; adjusting the audio output comprises stopping the audio output.”
So, that’s an earbud such as an AirPod or AirPod Pro plus an iPhone or an Apple Watch, presumably.
The background to the patent is that our portable gadgets, and I quote, “have provided users with an unprecedented amount of content to consume in nearly any setting.” This has the side effect of taking over our attention or distracting us. Well, we can all relate to that.
Playback when you’re cycling
If the system detects that you need to be paying better attention to your surroundings, it adjusts the audio coming from the earbuds. So, if you’re cycling, for instance, which is repeatedly mentioned in the patent, it can use what it calls positional data. This means data about “location, motion, speed, acceleration, weight distribution, balance, or other spatial location and/or orientation.”
The patent gives the example that it may use GPS data, for instance, to determine that the wearer is on or alongside a road, where the need for attention is necessary. The earbuds could be used for “playing a warning”, it says. The purpose is to “enhance a user’s safety or direct a user’s attention.”
It goes into more detail, specifying that it could establish which side of the road the user is, and therefore which earbud faces the road, for instance. If it decides from the position and speed, it can start playing a cycling playlist. It can determine the rider’s velocity using GPS, accelerometer and gyroscope data, say, and if the speed is determined to be above a certain threshold, it can adjust the audio. It can work out whether vehicles or other people are on or near the road and respond accordingly, perhaps by muting the music or quelling it in the earbud nearest the road.
Adjust your posture!
But the patent goes much further than just warning you when you’re cycling. It could also be used for other situations, when you’re not on a bike. Then it could be used to spot when a wearer is leaning to the right and respond with a message saying, “You can improve your posture by changing your stance!”
The new accessory
That’s where the new Apple device comes in. The patent gives the example of a workout mat which would be used as a sensing device with pressure-sensitivity or, as the patent calls it, “a set of capacitive force-sensing nodes.” These would “detect a location of a person standing on the sensing device” and could detect the user’s weight distribution.
So, what’s it for?
The patent reveals that one purpose for such a workout mode would be for yoga. “The user may be in a yoga pose but her positioning may be slightly off or otherwise suboptimal for the pose.” In this case, you might hear a message in your ear encouraging you to improve your Downward Dog or Tree Pose!
When can I have it?
I think this is one of the most intriguing Apple patents yet and I am very eager to get an Apple Mat or whatever it might be called. But, as always with Apple, it’s worth remembering that patents can take time to come to fruition, if they are ever realized at all.