Apple patent filing for ‘augmenting control sound’ hints at ‘AirPods Studio’ features

Apple is purportedly working on its first branded over-the-air headphones. The tech giant has filed for a patent (number 20200356341) for “augmenting control sound with spatial audio cues” that hints at features for the headset.

Per the patent filing, a headset can include left and right ear-worn speakers and a control. In response to a control input of the control, the ear-worn speakers can be driven with driver signals that include a control sound having a virtual location determined by spatial auditory cues. The control sound can indicate a behavior of the control as a result of the control input.

Apple says that sounds created by headset controls can provide useful feedback to a user that the user’s input has been properly administered. This feedback can improve the overall user experience of a device. Controlling these sounds, however, can be difficult due to construction restraints of a control and the interaction of the control with other components. 

In some cases, when a physical sound is not audible due to the construction of the control (e.g., a touch control or other quiet control), a device can generate a control sound through speakers to provide audible feedback to a user. In some cases, where the control does make a physical sound on a head-worn device, the sound can be muffled because the ears are covered (e.g., in the case of ear-phones). 

Sounds produced by physical controls can interact with other components of the device (e.g., a housing, or other members of the device) and can be unpredictable. The sounds can travel from the control through the air, and/or through various mechanical members of the device before reaching the user’s ears. Apple’s idea is to augment a control sound with spatial audio cues.

Regarding the AirPods Studio, it’s expected  cost about US$350 and have the following features:

° The earphones will include sensors that can detect whether the headphones are on your head or neck. Neck detection can be used to keep the headset turned on while the music is paused.

° Another sensor will be able to detect left and right ears to automatically route the audio channels, meaning there’ll be no right or wrong side to use AirPods Studio.

° They’ll boast Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode; users will be able to switch between the modes.

° They’ll be mainly targeted to pro users, who will be able to unlock custom equalizer settings.

The AirPods Studio were initially expected to arrive in time for the holidays. However, there’s now speculation that they have been pushed to early to mid-2021.