Apple AirPods have become a surprise success amidst the much talked about decline in sales of iPhone. The AirPods, which were first introduced alongside the iPhone 7, in 2016 have gone without an update for good two years. Apple AirPods 2 were anticipated to arrive this year but Apple seems to have put that on hold. A report from former KGI Securities Analyst Ming-Cho Kuo said the updated AirPods will arrive during the first quarter of 2019.
Kuo believes the next version of AirPods will bring improved connectivity via updated Bluetooth support and now, details of it getting improved ear fitting has also come to light. A patent granted to Apple by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Thursday describes different ways in which earbuds could be configured with multiple biometric sensors.
The patent application titled “Earbuds with compliant member” details how AirPods could free users from carrying multiple devices – Apple Watch for fitness tracking and AirPods for listening to music – at the same time. The whole process seems to mimic what Apple Watch is currently capable of and the earbuds will include a photoplethysmogram (PPG) sensor capable of transmitting light into skin to perform various measurements including heart rate monitoring.
In the application, Apple suggests monitoring vitals using the targus, a section of skin that lies directly in front of the ear canal. It proposes to position the earbud in such a way that it can make enough contact to function while offering comfort for users at the same time. According to AppleInsider, Apple suggests placing a contact-based biometric sensor at the bottom of the earbud, where it will able to make contact with the ear when wedged into the canal.
There is also an alternate version planned that includes a section with a “compliant member” or a section of the earbud that comes into contact with another fold of the ear called the antihelix. This will allow for more pressure from outside the ear canal without the need to pressure the canal itself. This method would also work with a variety of ear shapes and sizes and the section is potentially replaceable just like earbud inserts on any earphone.
Another alternative described by Apple is to envelop the targus completely but secure in a different way. In the patent application, Apple suggests a deformable loop extending out from the earbuds and one that lines the antihelix fold, providing even pressure and mold itself into the geometry of the ear.
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The key here is that regardless of the anchoring mechanism, the earbuds would use sensors onboard to determine orientation for sensing and its audio functionality. In the past, Apple’s patents have not necessarily translated into a functional product and it is not clear whether it will make a truly wireless earbud capable of monitoring like Apple Watch.
Kuo says Apple will launch a new version of AirPods with wireless charging support early next year. He believes a radically redesigned AirPods will arrive during the first half of 2020. AirPods have become an instant success among iPhone users and is being touted as a seamless transition from the lack of headphone on new iPhone models.