Apple’s Next Enhanced AirPods Suddenly Take Shape To Rival Pixel Buds

Apple AirPods

We’ve seen over the last few months how Apple is working on new smart functionality for a possible future pair of AirPods. Now fresh information about an upcoming fitness app and subscription service gives us more insight into Apple’s plans for the popular earbuds.

Bloomberg reported this week that the iPhone-maker is planning to launch a new exercise subscription service that will deliver virtual workout classes similar to what Peloton and Nike offer. According to Bloomberg this is part of a revamp of Apple’s services, with its new fitness classes being bundled with other subscription offers, which could also include access to its music and TV platforms.

This isn’t the first we’ve heard about a new exercise subscription service, back in March MacRumors found a new fitness app buried in iOS 14 code, which could see users downloading different instructional videos for a variety of different types of exercises including cycling, rowing, strength-training and yoga.

The reference to yoga might sound familiar, a recent Apple patent pointed towards using gyroscopes and accelerometers (which are currently in the AirPods Pro) in a future device to accurately measure user movements and gather orientation information.

The patent goes on to explain that “these stretch positions, which may sometimes be referred to as user head poses, user head tilts, neck stretches, poses, etc., may be used to help stretch and relax the muscles in a user’s upper body.”

The patent specifically mentions proper form when working out, with the new AirPods making up part of a system that coaches users and gives exercise feedback based on movements. The idea appears to be that the AirPods will be able to tell if you’re doing an exercise incorrectly, which sounds like a reference to yoga, of which positional accuracy is a core element.

This tallies with a report from DigiTimes in May, which revealed that Apple is planning to include ambient light sensors in a future pair of AirPods, which could increase the earbuds’ ability to measure health data like step counts, heart rate and monitoring other health conditions. As I wrote in another story:

“The light sensor technology could be conceptually similar to how the Apple Watch measures heart rate, which houses an optical heart sensor and employs a technique called photoplethysmography to gather information. As Apple explains, ‘blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment.’

Apple’s advantage in health monitoring perfectly dovetails with its wildly popular wearables. We’ll have to see how a pair of small earbuds can be repurposed into all-singing, all-dancing fitness gadgets. But the Cupertino-based company clearly sees an unused opportunity in one of its most popular products.

I suspect Google’s successful rebrand of what wireless headphones are used for has inspired Apple, and others, to add some more functionality to the AirPods. The Pixel Buds are due to receive their first major feature update – called a feature drop – in a couple of weeks and we’ll see how far the search company is willing to go in terms of what its headphones can do with software enhancements.

Not to be outdone by Google, Apple promised a raft of new features for its AirPods and AirPods Pro at WWDC in June. This included a new spatial audio feature, which relays directional sound so audio appears to come from different angles, transparency mode and the ability for two AirPods users to listen to the same thing at once from one source.

A watch and earbuds that offer genuinely useful health, exercise and positional monitoring alongside Apple-tailored virtual fitness classes is a powerful sell. If the subscription cost is reasonable, or Apple offers a similar one-year subscription for free with all product purchases, like it did with Apple TV+ last year, then rivals will have their work cut out for them.