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Apple has done it again: a new patent filing, published today, solves a persnickety problem of the smartphone age.

Picture this: you’re doing dishes, listening to your favorite podcast on your smartphone through headphones. Your girlfriend walks up behind you and starts trying to tell you about something – you probably need to take out the garbage – and you want to pause the podcast so you don’t miss a word. Only your hands are a wet, soapy mess, and you’re going to mess up your phone if you don’t dry off first.

It’s probably the worst crisis that humans face in the modern era.

apple-patent-sensor-headphonesApple’s patent, however, looks make sure that this never happens to a soapy dish-doer again. The patent application, which was filed in November of 2012, is for “Ear Presence Detection in Noise Cancelling Earphones, and describes earbuds or headphones outfitted with a variety of possible sensors. The filing lists a whole bunch, including switch-based, capacitive, resistive, force sensors, light sensors, acoustic sensors, or accelerometers, to name a few. The main function of one or any of these sensors is simple: to detect whether or not the user is still there.

If the user isn’t detected, the playback will pause, stop, or mute, probably depending on the user’s preset preference. It’s as simple as that, and it’s brilliant.

It stands to reason that if a system can tell a device to pause playback if the user isn’t detected, other functions could be mapped to such sensors. Chances are good that playback could automatically resume if the user puts the headphones back on.

This is the latest in a long string of interesting patent filings from Apple related to new features being bundled into headphones. Only a few months ago, we saw a patent for headphones that can monitor a user’s health, not to mention news of the company’s work into technology that can listen to users’ bloodflow to try and predict heart attacks.

While not nearly as ambitious as predicting heart attacks, this patent is a simple, yet genius innovation that could certainly find its way into the next generation of Apple devices. And considering yesterday’s news that Apple finalized its $3 billion purchase of high-end headphone maker Beats, don’t be surprised to see this feature on the next batch of Beats devices as well.

[USTPO via Patently Apple]

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