Through a newly-filed patent, Apple has given us some hints about the possibility of new AirPods that come equipped with biometric sensors. The patent comes as Apple implements more and more biometric technology into their product line.
The development would fit in with other biometric tech that Apple has already implemented in other products like the Apple Watch — as well as how earbuds and headphones from other brands are already trying to implement biometric technology.
Apple’s History With Biometric Technology
Biometric sensors are any sensors that takes some kind of biometric reading — basically, biological data like heart rate, a fingerprint scan, or a high-res image of your iris. This data can be used in a few different ways. Most often, biometric technology is either used for security purposes — where a fingerprint or scan of your face can unlock your phone — or to track health data.
If Apple does implement biometric technology into their AirPods, it wouldn’t be their first time experimenting with the technology. Face ID — Apple’s facial recognition and security system — was announced back in 2017, and is now a standard fixture on most of their products that come with front-facing cameras.
Apple has also used biometric technology in their line of Apple Watches — and the technology used there is closer to what we will probably see in Apple’s new earbuds. The new Apple Watch 5 offers biometric sensors that track data like heart rate and blood glucose. Apple Watch users could then use this data for sleep monitoring, fitness tracking and other health applications.
Based on the patent filed by Apple, we have some idea of which features Apple wants to include in their new AirPods. One possible sensor would work similarly to the Apple Watch and would track heart rate and blood volume data. Another possibility is a GSR sensor, which could be used to measure stress levels.
The earbuds may also be designed to fit in both of the ears — rather than just the left or right — and would detect the ear it’s in, adjusting audio output accordingly.
Biometrics in the Audio Industry
If biometrics in earbuds sounds outlandish, you should know that it actually isn’t. In this case, Apple isn’t blazing a new trail. Instead, the company seems to be drawing from and building on trends that developed in the rest of the audio industry.
There are a new line of “smart” earbuds and headphones currently on the market and in development. These earbuds distinguish themselves from non-smart products by offering features like Bluetooth, on-earbud storage and activity-tracking capabilities like those on the Apple Watch and other wearables.
These smart earbuds also offer a range of biometric features — including biometric ID, health monitoring, fitness tracking and even custom-molded earbuds, which are designed to perfectly fit inside of your ear. And audio manufacturers right now are trying to seize on the trend, racing to deploy more and more advanced biometrics technology.
Some in-development earbuds even come equipped with AI technology that can track your running form and coach you as you jog. Other earbuds could use AI build a model of your specific hearing sensitivity and adjust the different frequencies the earbud produces to compensate for conditions like hearing loss — or to match user preference, like if you want all of your music bass-boosted.
These possibilities are part of the wider future of consumer biometrics, where wearables and earbuds will offer more and more functionality. It’s not clear how many of these features will stick around — whether or not this time next year companies will still be developing earbuds that come with some form of Ear ID.
But it’s almost certain we’re not at the peak of this trend yet. You should expect more companies, including Apple, to seriously experiment with biometrics and AI in the next few years.
The Possibilities of Biometrics in Apple AirPods
As biometric technology improves and becomes more portable, it will be easier for companies to add sensors to even the smallest of devices — like earbuds. Some of the biggest brands have already hopped on the biometric earbud trend, and it seems like Apple does not want to be left behind. Apple’s patents likely reflect a shift in the audio industry towards higher-tech earbuds.