Apple earphone invention detects multiple users, switches audio profiles to match

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 2015
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple's invention for an earphone cable capable of detecting when its being shared between multiple users, allowing each to hear a monophonic audio track or completely different songs.


Source: USPTO


Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,049,508 for "Earphones with cable orientation sensors" employs a variety of sensors to determine the presence of one or more users and subsequently output audio in single- or multi-user mode. For example, a stereo sound scheme may be employed when a single user is detected, while multiple users get separate mono signals.

A number of viable sensor arrangements are disclosed involving mechanical switches, strain gauges, capacitive sensors and even light transmission via fiber optics. Depending on an earphone's design, sensing modules are disposed at specific points along an earphone's cable, such as the Y-junction that joins left and right channel wires.

Some embodiments, like those dealing with Y-junction installations, rely on angle measurements to determine when an earphone is being shared by multiple users. The invention assumes the angle will change when two users share earphones, likely widening the gap between left and right earbuds compared to a single-user scenario.




This technique incorporates sensors within a cable's rubber sheath either as conductive lines or integrated with an internal support structure. Strain gauges and conductive lines can be located at the Y-junction to measures minute changes in angle between exiting left and right cable sections. When a measured angle surpasses a predetermined threshold, it is concluded that multiple users are sharing the device, which in turn triggers a specific audio profile.

Another technique involves capacitive sensors, applied as overlapping conductors again placed at the Y-junction. When left and right cable segments are spread apart the overlapping area decreases, thereby decreasing capacitance, a change that can be continuously monitored.

One embodiment uses a fiber optic goniometer, a device capable of measuring precise angles using known properties of light transmission. Light from a laser, LED or other source is polarized, piped through fiber optic cabling and multiple wave plates, then collected at detectors placed in both earbuds.




As light passes through the fiber optic cable, changes in polarization occur when one wave plate rotates in respect to other wave plates, which in turn modulates light intensity as captured by the light detector. The resulting data is processed and translated as a specific cable position.

Apple's patent also outlines other sensor techniques, including piezo-electric force sensors, as well as equations for assigning appropriate thresholds to single- and multi-user scenarios.

Today's IP grant is unlikely to show up in a near-future EarPods product, but a form of the design could come in handy for other solutions involving data and power cable management. Apple has shown increased interest in minimizing customer reliance on cords, as evidenced by the Apple Watch's inductive charger and the new 12-inch MacBook's single USB Type-C cable, which could lead to compatibility issues as device designs adapt.

Apple's earphone cable orientation sensor patent was first filed for in 2012 and credits Paul G. Puskarich as its inventor.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    applesauce007applesauce007 Posts: 1,671member
    Bravo! Very cool innovation ...
    Go Apple Go, Go, Go!
  • Reply 2 of 12
    djsherlydjsherly Posts: 1,031member
    Hmm. I can't think of many people who would share their ear buds.
  • Reply 3 of 12
    penchantedpenchanted Posts: 1,070member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by djsherly View Post



    Hmm. I can't think of many people who would share their ear buds.



    My thoughts exactly.

  • Reply 4 of 12
    macvictamacvicta Posts: 346member
    The Beats acquisition is finally coming into focus. We've cracked it.
  • Reply 5 of 12
    ecatsecats Posts: 272member

    If it was just for earphone sharing, then they would have just used capacitance.

     

    Instead potential use cases seem to be much wider. With Apple's focus on flexible electronics having an intelligent and accurate way to measure bend allows for some great uses.

     

    E.g. a bendable screen could sense it's articulation and then undo the visual distortion of the bend. (Especially good for wearable electronics.) Another example could be to use bend as an input device, e.g. turn on the screen when it is unrolled, or turn it off when it is rolled away.

  • Reply 6 of 12
    nairbnairb Posts: 253member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by djsherly View Post



    Hmm. I can't think of many people who would share their ear buds.

    You will be surprised how many kids do.

     

    Because of the way it is designed, it will probably also work if you only have one bud in because you want to be more aware of the environment around you. That is something that would definitely interest me. 

  • Reply 7 of 12
    photodenkphotodenk Posts: 37member
    nairb wrote: »
    You will be surprised how many kids do.

    Because of the way it is designed, it will probably also work if you only have one bud in because you want to be more aware of the environment around you. That is something that would definitely interest me. 

    I hope this just ends up being for over-the-ear phones and not earbuds.
  • Reply 8 of 12
    lymflymf Posts: 65member
    Many kids share earbuds. And it's great it's annoying to hear only half of the song because the l and r are different
  • Reply 9 of 12
    onhkaonhka Posts: 1,025member

    First thing, this application does have a purpose. There are situations for one simultaneously sharing their earphones. And as articulated in the article, other possible functions as well. Something they couldn't do as quickly if someone else held the rights.

     

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    Today's IP grant is unlikely to show up in a near-future EarPods product, but a form of the design could come in handy for other solutions involving data and power cable management. Apple has shown increased interest in minimizing customer reliance on cords, as evidenced by the Apple Watch's inductive charger and the new 12-inch MacBook's single USB Type-C cable, which could lead to compatibility issues as device designs adapt.

     

    Then there is Steve Jobs, who more than anyone else, learned the hard way about 'not protecting yourself'. As we have seen with the introduction of the iPhone, there is probably not an idea that Apple attempts to innovate that Patent Pending is one of the first things on their list of to do's.

     

    And if anyone here thinks that Apple has not considered in virtually everything else that their innovations could be applied to, best you do more homework before you speak.

  • Reply 10 of 12
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,864member
    This is a lot better than "installing" ear worms in people.
  • Reply 11 of 12
    bdkennedy1bdkennedy1 Posts: 1,459member
    I'm not interested in putting someone else's earphones in my ears. Gross.
  • Reply 12 of 12
    arlorarlor Posts: 528member

    Apple still hasn't made an earbud that will fit my apparently dysfunctional ears, sadly. Perhaps this new tech will change the shape just enough that they both don't fall out and don't hurt. 

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