Apple granted patent for 'dual mode' headphone that doubles as a speaker

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 2017
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple a patent covering a next-generation headphone design that automatically transforms into a stereo loudspeaker on the fly, potentially laying down a blueprint for future EarPods, AirPods or Beats models.


Source: USPTO


Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,565,490 for "Dual mode headphones and methods for constructing the same" details a headphone system -- over-the-ear, on-ear or in-ear -- capable of switching operating modes from personal listening to speaker depending on its orientation.

Apple proposes utilizing designs similar to headphones currently on the market. A basic over-ear style, for example, includes two ear cups containing drivers and operating circuitry, connected by head strap. Apple's invention adds in specialized sensors and amplifier circuitry that allows an ideal headphone to operate as a standalone loudspeaker.

Controlling output volumes are onboard sensors that determine the headphone's current position, its orientation in space and proximate location to a user's head. For example, when the driver cups are facing inward and the proximity sensor detects a nearby object, thus indicating on-head use, the device bypasses the built-in amplifier. Once a user activates "speaker mode," perhaps by flipping the ear cups outward and laying the system on its side, output volumes ratchet up to loudspeaker levels.

On-ear headphones like clip-on models, as well as in-ear formats like EarPods and the new AirPods, are also compatible with Apple's invention. The same sensor and amplifier arrangement applies, but on a smaller and more compact scale suitable for use with pint size driver and armature designs.

Alternative embodiments include a snap band headphone, the ability to actuate speaker mode manually via a button interface, support for external amplifiers, secondary sound ports for earbud style headphones and more.




Whether Apple plans to bring the dual mode headphone system to market is unknown, though the company accomplished a similar feat with its latest iPhone 7 lineup. The current generation smartphone boasts a speaker arrangement that produces stereo sound when the device is in landscape mode, a technology introduced with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and later adopted by its smaller 9.7-inch sibling.

Instead of integrating four discrete loudspeakers at each device corner, as it did with iPad Pro, Apple cleverly amplifies output from iPhone's ear speaker, a component traditionally used solely for phone calls. Speaker volumes return to standard handset listening levels when onboard sensors determine iPhone is in portrait mode and near a user's head.

Perhaps more telling is Apple's AirPods. Proving the invention can indeed be implemented in an earbud design, the new wireless earbuds incorporate both motion and proximity sensors, as well as intelligent onboard processing for pairing, communications and other advanced functionality. AirPods even include a take on the "earbud as speaker" concept with "Find My AirPods," which helps users locate a lost bud by playing a loud pinging noise. The lost-and-found feature does not incorporate a discrete amplifier, as detailed in today's patent, but the basic idea is there.

Apple's dual mode headphone patent was first filed for in May 2011 and credits Edward C. Hyatt as its inventor.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 10
    linkmanlinkman Posts: 1,014member
    I used to own a set of Koss headphones that went so friggin' loud that they could serve as speakers. That was in 1985.
    baconstangcali
  • Reply 2 of 10
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    I raised a brow at the diagram, but a minute later I thought, "Actually they may be on to something here."


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 10
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,340member
    Since any headphone is just a speaker, Apple just patented an external way of detecting position and then amount up the volume to switch from headphone to speaker.  


    Sorry.  This is not an invention.  This is pathetic.  
    baconstang
  • Reply 4 of 10
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    eriamjh said:
    Since any headphone is just a speaker, Apple just patented an external way of detecting position and then amount up the volume to switch from headphone to speaker.  


    Sorry.  This is not an invention.  This is pathetic.  
    Funny what pops into your head. 


  • Reply 5 of 10
    Quelity of these may really suck from acoustic perspective. You cannot beat physics and technology limitations.
  • Reply 6 of 10
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,379member
    eriamjh said:
    Since any headphone is just a speaker, Apple just patented an external way of detecting position and then amount up the volume to switch from headphone to speaker.  


    Sorry.  This is not an invention.  This is pathetic.  
    Quelity of these may really suck from acoustic perspective. You cannot beat physics and technology limitations.
    If (and I stress if) they do actually sound good in the speaker mode, then they's be quite useful.  On the other hand if the position detection were to go wrong you could blow your eardrums out!  
     :-O
    edited February 2017 calicornchip
  • Reply 7 of 10
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,559member
    eriamjh said:
    Since any headphone is just a speaker, Apple just patented an external way of detecting position and then amount up the volume to switch from headphone to speaker.  

    Sorry.  This is not an invention.  This is pathetic.  
    No, trolling is pathetic. 

    Patents are for implementations, not ideas. You can't (or shouldn't) get a patent for "flying car", but you can patent how your anti-grav turbine device works. Thus this patent isn't for the idea, but how they did it. 
    calicornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 10
    Quelity of these may really suck from acoustic perspective. You cannot beat physics and technology limitations.
    I would assume that you'd have 2 sets of drivers. The best of the high end earbuds and headphones already use multiple drivers, albeit for another purpose entirely, but I could see it being relatively easy to drop small drivers "into" the larger drivers. (And to be larger they don't have to be larger in dimensions) Price definitely goes up, but at scale I would imagine price could come down significantly. A consumer product like this doesn't have to use the BEST parts. Just good enough for your average consumer. 

    Obviously iPads and laptops have decent speakers. I'm not sure something like this would be a huge improvement, but they would be very handy for
    smaller devices like the iPhone. Kind of a marginal use case though. My "fear" would be that this would be implemented and used as some way to start removing speakers from idevices, but that would be ridiculous given how much apple has invested in their laptop, iPad and iMac products. I'd be surprised to see this as an Apple product. Beats more likely. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 10
    anomeanome Posts: 1,461member

    I mean, who hasn't used their headphones as speakers in the past? Crappy speakers, I grant you, but speakers at any rate. I can see innovation if they have a way of changing the performance based on orientation of the speakers (or at least detecting proximity to someone's ear - you'd hate to get your headphones working in speaker mode at the wrong time).

    Also, the earbud diagram doesn't look like an EarPod module. Which makes sense, as EarPods wouldn't be suitable for this function. I'd see it as more likely to be used on a Beats product. It kind of fits with the Beats branding.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 10
    Hmm... quite interesting. So after all the brand new smartphone introduced dual camera, now apple step further ahead by introducing dual mode headphones. So no need to plug into any speaker?
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