Apple patents magnetically detachable wireless earbuds for iPhone

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2016
Amid rumors claiming Apple's next iPhone heralds the inexorable demise of the 3.5mm headphone jack, the company on Tuesday was granted a patent for a hybrid headphone design capable of both corded and wireless operation.


Source: USPTO


As awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,277,309 for a "Detachable wireless listening device" details a headphone that accepts audio signals via a traditional cord in one mode, and Bluetooth or other wireless protocol in another.

The patent shares design similarities with a pair of regular earbuds. For example, both appear to sport a main audio cord branching off into two leads -- one each for right and left earbuds. In practice, however, the invention relies on two separate cables; one connecting the stereo headphones together to form a listening subsystem, and another tethering that subsystem to a host device.

Crucial to Apple's invention is a magnetic attachment mechanism that connects the listening device (earbuds and accompanying cable) to the host cord for battery recharging and wired audio signal transmission. When the earbud-side cord becomes detached, the system can be programmed to detect the state change, automatically pause the charging process and activate wireless communications. The ability to free one's headphones from a bulky host device provides a host of benefits, not the least of which being freedom to move without fear of getting wrapped up in wires.




Apple's hybrid earbud concept came to light as a patent application in 2012, shortly after the company launched its redesigned EarPods headphones with iPhone 5. The intervening years have seen three iPhone iterations with no colorable headphone hardware modifications.

A closer look at the patent as granted reveals only minor changes from the 2012 application, the most prominent being mention of a magnetic attachment system in the patent's claim construction. Previously, the filing only alluded to a vague attachment mechanism. An easy-to-use docking/charging interface is key in creating a pair of functional wireless headphones, and a design riff on the familiar wired EarPods supplied with all iPhones isn't a bad way to start.

Last November, rumors surfaced claiming Apple plans to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from its next-generation iPhone design in favor of an all wireless or Lightning solution. While still an industry standard, the headphone jack is an aging relic of the analog era that stands in the way of thinner, more flexible iPhone designs.

It is possible that technology referenced in today's patent grant will make its way into a next-gen Apple headphone model, a development that at least seems feasible in light of Lightning's introduction and subsequent platform buildout. The foundation for Lightning-enabled audio equipment was laid in 2014 when Apple announced the Lightning headphone module, a piece of hardware that offers third-party manufacturers access to deeper system controls, direct analog audio out and enough juice to power attached accessories. Apple itself debuted Lightning-compatible headphones, albeit through the Beats by Dre brand.

As for the empty space left by a removal of iPhone's 3.5mm jack, the most recent rumblings say Apple could replace the audio module with a second speaker for stereo sound, though a lack of evidence precludes objective speculation. All will be revealed when the next flagship iPhone is announced, an event likely to take place this fall.

Apple's hybrid headphone patent was first filed for in March 2011 and credits Jorge S. Fino as its inventor.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    roakeroake Posts: 816member
    Is that Mick Jagger's daughter in those drawings?
    Rayz2016cash907censored
  • Reply 2 of 29
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,453member
    A wire hangs under your chin in wireless mode?  I'll stick with my existing BT cans with optional 3.5mm jack connection thanks.
    edited March 2016 cash907censored
  • Reply 3 of 29
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,056member
    crowley said:
    A wire hangs under your chin in wireless mode?  I'll stick with my existing BT cans with optional 3.5mm jack connection thanks.
    Most BT headsets suck. I refuse to use one.
    suddenly newton
  • Reply 4 of 29
    williamhwilliamh Posts: 1,035member
    roake said:
    Is that Mick Jagger's daughter in those drawings?
    To me it looks like Marianne Jean-Baptiste, actress on Without a Trace and other shows.

    Anyhow ....  what sense do "stereo" speakers make on a phone?  The amount of separation would be meaningless.
  • Reply 5 of 29
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    the headphone jack is an aging relic of the analog era that stands in the way of thinner, more flexible iPhone designs.

    Firstly, it's not even close to being a relic. The age of a technology has nothing to do with it's practicality, usefulness or technical merit.  I wonder how long we have been using knives, laces and buttons?  This nonsense of analogue audio somehow being a thing of the past that has been superseded is very ignorant.  Our ears decode analogue waveforms, not digital.

    Secondly, it doesn't stand in the way of a thinner iPhone.  The Vivo Air is just 5.1mm thick and manages to have a  3.5mm headphone socket.  I would say that unless you want to make a phone less than 4.5mm thick, you don't have to forego a headphone socket, unless you wan't to make the claim that Apple's design and manufacturing prowess isn't up with that of a tiny Chinese manufacturer.

    Apple seemed perfectly happy to increase the thickness of the 6+ in order to accommodate force touch, something which is of far less utility than a headphone socket.

    5.1mm thin:




    My daughter has a set of earbuds with a magnetic coupling in the cable, so I doubt Apple can be trying to patent this aspect of the design.
    edited March 2016 baconstangpscooter63techlovercash907censored
  • Reply 6 of 29
    singularitysingularity Posts: 1,328member
    cnocbui said:
    the headphone jack is an aging relic of the analog era that stands in the way of thinner, more flexible iPhone designs.

    Firstly, it's not even close to being a relic. The age of a technology has nothing to do with it's practicality, usefulness or technical merit.  I wonder how long we have been using knives, laces and buttons?  This nonsense of analogue audio somehow being a thing of the past that has been superseded is very ignorant.  Our ears decode analogue waveforms, not digital.

    Secondly, it doesn't stand in the way of a thinner iPhone.  The Vivo Air is just 5.1mm thick and manages to have a  3.5mm headphone socket.  I would say that unless you want to make a phone less than 4.5mm thick, you don't have to forego a headphone socket, unless you wan't to make the claim that Apple's design and manufacturing prowess isn't up with that of a tiny Chinese manufacturer.

    Apple seemed perfectly happy to increase the thickness of the 6+ in order to accommodate force touch, something which is of far less utility than a headphone socket.

    5.1mm thin:




    My daughter has a set of earbuds with a magnetic coupling in the cable, so I doubt Apple can be trying to patent this aspect of the design.
    I'm assuming that they are patentening a particular implementation.
    nolamacguy
  • Reply 7 of 29
    yabewebyabeweb Posts: 7member
    My daughter has a set of earbuds with a magnetic coupling in the cable, so I doubt Apple can be trying to patent this aspect of the design.
    It already happened...read the first sentence:" As awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,277,309 for a "Detachable wireless listening device" You doubt it already happened?
  • Reply 8 of 29
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,953member
    crowley said:
    A wire hangs under your chin in wireless mode?  I'll stick with my existing BT cans with optional 3.5mm jack connection thanks.
    Or behind your neck? 
  • Reply 9 of 29
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member

    roake said:
    Is that Mick Jagger's daughter in those drawings?
    No.


  • Reply 10 of 29
    jasenj1jasenj1 Posts: 923member
    I wish they'd replace the lightning connector with something magnetic. I thought the MagSafe design would take off and physically inserting things would fade away on mobile devices.

    "for battery recharging and wired audio signal transmission"
    Perhaps the novelty and patentability here is the battery charging aspect.
    flaneur
  • Reply 11 of 29
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,503member
    Here's a thought, make the ear buds have a ear loop to keep them in your damn ear channel. One size does not fit all. Whether they have a small extension on the end for the receiver and the decoding chip I don't care. But the loop seems like a means to patent a general design, as one possibility, not an actual finished design. After all, it was first published in 2011. A lot has changed since this filing. I expect this to be referenced in their final patent design.
    palominecash907censored
  • Reply 12 of 29
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,454member
    cnocbui said:
    the headphone jack is an aging relic of the analog era that stands in the way of thinner, more flexible iPhone designs.

    Firstly, it's not even close to being a relic. The age of a technology has nothing to do with it's practicality, usefulness or technical merit.  I wonder how long we have been using knives, laces and buttons?  This nonsense of analogue audio somehow being a thing of the past that has been superseded is very ignorant.  Our ears decode analogue waveforms, not digital.

    Secondly, it doesn't stand in the way of a thinner iPhone.  The Vivo Air is just 5.1mm thick and manages to have a  3.5mm headphone socket.  I would say that unless you want to make a phone less than 4.5mm thick, you don't have to forego a headphone socket, unless you wan't to make the claim that Apple's design and manufacturing prowess isn't up with that of a tiny Chinese manufacturer.

    Apple seemed perfectly happy to increase the thickness of the 6+ in order to accommodate force touch, something which is of far less utility than a headphone socket.

    5.1mm thin:




    My daughter has a set of earbuds with a magnetic coupling in the cable, so I doubt Apple can be trying to patent this aspect of the design.
    Thanks for the diatribe, but it's not about fitting the 3.5mm opening on the edge of a device ... You do realize there's a whole connector that sits inside that case, right? It takes about 250 cubic mm of space. Space that could be used for a bigger battery and improved tech.

    https://d3nevzfk7ii3be.cloudfront.net/igi/Dx5cSswRDaQAW3L2.medium
    edited March 2016 linkmannolamacguy
  • Reply 13 of 29
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    mac_128 said:
    cnocbui said:

    Firstly, it's not even close to being a relic. The age of a technology has nothing to do with it's practicality, usefulness or technical merit.  I wonder how long we have been using knives, laces and buttons?  This nonsense of analogue audio somehow being a thing of the past that has been superseded is very ignorant.  Our ears decode analogue waveforms, not digital.

    Secondly, it doesn't stand in the way of a thinner iPhone.  The Vivo Air is just 5.1mm thick and manages to have a  3.5mm headphone socket.  I would say that unless you want to make a phone less than 4.5mm thick, you don't have to forego a headphone socket, unless you wan't to make the claim that Apple's design and manufacturing prowess isn't up with that of a tiny Chinese manufacturer.

    Apple seemed perfectly happy to increase the thickness of the 6+ in order to accommodate force touch, something which is of far less utility than a headphone socket.

    5.1mm thin:

    Thanks for the diatribe, but it's not about fitting the 3.5mm opening on the edge of a device ... You do realize there's a whole connector that sits inside that case, right? It takes about 250 cubic mm of space. Space that could be used for a bigger battery and improved tech.

    https://d3nevzfk7ii3be.cloudfront.net/igi/Dx5cSswRDaQAW3L2.medium
    Ah that old 'but extra space' nonsense.  You do realise that at 250 cubic mm that is only 0.38 % of the volume of an 6S?  So far the rumours are suggesting the headphone jack deletion is to make room for a second speaker, not extra battery capacity or anything else of actual use.
    cash907censored
  • Reply 14 of 29
    icoco3icoco3 Posts: 1,474member
    Apple makes enough money to hire a decent artist don't they?? 
    cash907censored
  • Reply 15 of 29
    razormaidrazormaid Posts: 299member
    They already have an excellent wireless Bluetooth headset at their disposal:  PowerBeats 2 wireless. I own 5 sets in different colors in fact. I'm in the audio mastering business and these sound great. You just need to replace the little ear bud they ship with with the largest "flexi" one they ship with. The largest one is super comfortable (I can't tell you how many times I've stepped into the shower forgetting I have them in) and the larger set acts as a suction cup keeping ALL the sound in your ear not letting it seep out. 

    They charge in under 30 minutes and go for about a day and a half of continuos use. I use them mainly for texting, telephone calls, answering email, maps, etc but occasionally for music too. I say "occasionally" because when you're business IS music you try not to listen to music when you're not working. <GRIN> 

    The music quality is so good we use these for double checking the final EQ before mastering. I can't tell you how many times its caught small changes because it gives an  intimacy and spatial perspective that speakers just can't provide sometimes 
    edited March 2016
  • Reply 16 of 29
    That better be a neodymium magnet or it will come disconnected constantly.
  • Reply 17 of 29
    techlovertechlover Posts: 879member
    About the demise of the 3.5mm headphone jack being a relic:

    When I purchased the very first iPhone on day one, non of my headphones worked with it and I needed to buy an adapter. It was a bulky solution to a problem that should not have existed.

    To this day I still use all of those same headphones and my first iPhone sits in a drawer. A relic of yesterdays technology.

    I hope that Apple does not eliminate the 3.5mm jack. 
    cnocbuicash907censored
  • Reply 18 of 29
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    cnocbui said:
    mac_128 said:
    Thanks for the diatribe, but it's not about fitting the 3.5mm opening on the edge of a device ... You do realize there's a whole connector that sits inside that case, right? It takes about 250 cubic mm of space. Space that could be used for a bigger battery and improved tech.

    https://d3nevzfk7ii3be.cloudfront.net/igi/Dx5cSswRDaQAW3L2.medium
    Ah that old 'but extra space' nonsense.  You do realise that at 250 cubic mm that is only 0.38 % of the volume of an 6S?  So far the rumours are suggesting the headphone jack deletion is to make room for a second speaker, not extra battery capacity or anything else of actual use.

    Mmm. Dunno.

    When Apple talks about tolerances measured in microns then 0.38% actually sounds like quite a lot. I hadn't actually thought that the problem Apple had with the connector was how much space it takes inside the device.

    Having said that, so far we only have one headphone manufacturer using the lightning connector; I just don't see anyone else following them.


  • Reply 19 of 29
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,038member
    crowley said:
    A wire hangs under your chin in wireless mode?  I'll stick with my existing BT cans with optional 3.5mm jack connection thanks.
    I like the two phones being physically connected. Too easily to lose one or both, especially if they are in-ear or ear buds. 
    diplication
  • Reply 20 of 29
    I hope the magnetic connector is also a way to charge it. I use BT sport earbuds, and it requires using micro-USB. I'd rather have wireless earbuds that can recharge from the Lightning connector, the way Apple Pencil does. The "MagSafe" style connector sounds perfect.
    cash907censored
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