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Future EarPods may use sensors to detect users' ears, control noise cancellation and music playback

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
In the shadow of Apple's recent acquisition of Beats Electronics, known for its aftermarket headphone hardware, a pair of Apple patent filings published on Thursday show an earbud design that can detect user's presence based on data from onboard sensors.

Earpods


With smartphone manufacturers pressed to increase battery life while at the same time adding new features, engineers are constantly looking for ways to optimize hardware control systems for maximum power efficiency. Apple's most recent patent applications look to do just that by creating earphones that automatically deactivate power-hungry features when a user removes them.

As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's patent applications for "Ear Presence Detection in Noise Cancelling Earphones" and "Electronic Devices and Accessories with Media Streaming Control Features" describe two systems in which sensors are used to detect a user's presence and consequently turn certain functions on or off.


Source: USPTO


Both patent applications deal with similar or identical technology, incorporating the same patent illustrations and language, but put to different uses. Automated power saving functions are the main goal, however, as seen below.

In the first invention specifically dealing with noise cancellation technology, Apple describes a basic earphone structure that can house both a speaker and noise canceling microphone. In one embodiment, the phone does the heavy lifting in signal processing, while another offloads the task to circuitry onboard the earphone or, in some cases, headphone.

As described in the document, the noise cancellation system works in much the same way as the current iPhone implementation, with one or mics picking up audio signals, routing them to processing components and feeding an equal and opposite signal to the speaker. This process can be accomplished either on the device or completely through the audio accessory.

Unlike current Apple devices, however, the smart earphones in both patents use so-called "ear presence" sensors, which include accelerometers, capacitive touch sensors, force sensors, acoustic sensors and ultrasonic sensors, just to name a few. For example, the metal mesh screen normally used to protect a speaker's delicate internal components can be made of conductive material to create a electrical resistance-based sensor.



Using these embedded sensors, the earphone and corresponding circuitry can determine whether the unit is in a user's ear, which informs control components to turn power-hungry noise canceling operations on or off.

In the second patent filing, Apple details a similar ear presence sensor setup, but applies it to media playback services such as music streaming. For example, when a user puts their earbud in or takes it out, a streaming music service can start or stop playing. This particular solution would likely save much more power as streaming media over wireless or even Wi-Fi is a power intensive operation.

The second application mentions a few other sensor types not covered in Apple's noise canceling filing like temperature sensors, though the endgame is power savings through system automation.



With Apple's recently-announced $3 billion Beats acquisition, the company said it would keep both Beats Music and Beats Electronics as separate distinct brands. This means bundled earphones like the current EarPods will likely be improved as Apple-branded products going forward and could one day feature ear presence sensors as described in Thursday's patent applications.

Alternatively, Apple now has the option to apply the invention to Beats headphones, merging the audio company's noise canceling tech with automated power on/off functions.

Apple's smart earphone patent applications were both filed for on Nov. 29, 2012. The noise canceling property credits Nicholas A. Rundle as its inventor, while Alessandro Pelosi worked on the music streaming application.
post #2 of 12
The white EarPods are a symbol of iPodness. It's chic.

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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post #3 of 12
My guess that Apple's wearables were going to be located at the ears, not the wrist, appears to be coming true. Clever me.
Post from mstone to Benjamin Frost - "Perhaps that explains your lack of mental capacity. If I was your brother, I probably would have repeatedly smashed the side of your head with a cricket bat."
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Post from mstone to Benjamin Frost - "Perhaps that explains your lack of mental capacity. If I was your brother, I probably would have repeatedly smashed the side of your head with a cricket bat."
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post #4 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

The white EarPods are a symbol of iPodness. It's chic.

Be prepared when they all come with a "b" stamped on them henceforth.
 
Where's the new Apple TV?
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Where's the new Apple TV?
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post #5 of 12

I'll be happy if they scrap their existing ear buds and replace them with something that does not fall out of my ears all the time.  My $10 Sony's sound better than Apples ear buds.

post #6 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by pazuzu View Post


Be prepared when they all come with a "b" stamped on them henceforth.

 

lord I've never seen so many panicked nerds in my life. apple has the #1 corporate brand in the world -- do you REALLY think they're going to throw it away for a subsidiary? use your brain.

post #7 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by icoco3 View Post
 

My $10 Sony's sound better than Apples ear buds.

 

not. my ear buds that shipped w/ my phone sound much better than the other throw-aways that came w/ every other device I've ever owned.

post #8 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post

My guess that Apple's wearables were going to be located at the ears, not the wrist, appears to be coming true. Clever me.

1) Headphones are already wearables so why don't people count them as such? It's like how people don't think email is a part of cloud computing.

2) I would guess there will be additional electronics in the headphones as the EAM is a great place to have sensors as well as the wrist and other places. I can foresee a future where we have sensors all over but I really want to be around where we have injected and/or consumed electronics that our lives better.

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #9 of 12

I wonder why Apple can't do a better job of filtering out road noise when iPhones are used in vehicles. Seems like an easy thing to cancel out the steady, consistent 'swoosh.' I'd love a 'car mode' for the speakers that perhaps gave up a little voice quality in return for less road noise.

 

For what it's worth, I never liked ear buds until I bought the kind that have memory foam covers. Just like the beds, these buds conform to the shape of your ear and form a tight seal. Maybe too tight...probably why I lost so much hearing over the last few years.

post #10 of 12
HEADLINE:
"Future EarPods may use sensors to detect users' ears...."

So, user puts on headphones. Forthwith he/she hears "Yes, I think we have ears here! We're on the ears!" 😏
post #11 of 12
Apple should have a feature where I take a photo of inside my ears with my iPhone and 4 days later two pair of personally molded earbuds arrive at my front door.
post #12 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by NolaMacGuy View Post
 

 

not. my ear buds that shipped w/ my phone sound much better than the other throw-aways that came w/ every other device I've ever owned.


my personal opinion and they still fall out of my ears.

 

When I got my first iPhone (3GS( in 2010, I used the ear buds from my old Zune.  Sounded great, didn't fall out, and the best feature was the small amount the protruded from the jack.

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