Apple Is Apparently Working on AR Headphones

Illustration for article titled Apple Is Apparently Working on AR Headphones
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At this point, it’s no secret that Apple’s working on augmented reality glasses. However, a patent reveals that the company is also tinkering around with augmented audio in headphones.


The headphones are positioned as a useful tool for conference calls. That’s because you’d be able to hear where a person is in the room, even if they’re not physically there. In the patent’s abstract, Apple describes a “pre-processor” that’s able to receive each caller’s audio signal, associate it with corresponding metadata, and then spit out a virtual, spatial representation of where that signal would be coming from based on that metadata. It certainly makes sense in an enterprise situation, but it could also easily be applied to regular calls and entertainment.

The patent also describes a “head-tracking controller” that could analyze which way a listener is looking. The headset would then be able to make use of multi-channel audio to deliver audio playback based on where the user was looking, as well as where other participants in the call are. Basically, the headset would be able to mimic in-person meetings—if you ‘look’ at someone, the headset’s audio would automatically adjust. If the call participants are remotely based, the patent also describes creating a ‘virtual room’ in which “acoustic properties resemble those of the real environment in which the listener is situated.”

Why...does this woman look like she’s listening to a circle jerk of sperms?
Why...does this woman look like she’s listening to a circle jerk of sperms?
Image: USPTO

This tech would go a long way in helping remote workers identify who’s speaking, rather than trying to guess based on voice alone. It’s also easy to imagine the AR headphones working in tandem with a pair of AR glasses. You could theoretically join a virtual conference call, and then actually “see” where participants would be sitting in your environment. Perhaps something like those Jedi Council meetings in the prequel Star Wars trilogy—albeit, jankier since you’d be using AR headphones and glasses, not holograms. Facebook showed off a similar concept a few years ago with a ‘social VR demo’ using the Oculus Rift, though it was pretty rough around the edges.

Again, as with all patents, none of this might see the light of day. Even if we do, it’s going to be a bit of wait. Recent reports indicate that Apple’s rumored AR headset won’t launch until at least 2022, with AR glasses coming in 2023 at the earliest.



Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.



This seems pretty useless in the conference call situation described. I have conference calls all the time an hate them for entirely different reasons. One is that people will just mute and work on other things, so they’re not paying attention like an actual meeting. The other is that this will not solve people awkwardly talking at the same time, or people trying to interject; both of which are not issues in in-person meetings due to visual cues.

As for knowing who’s talking, there’s already a solution for this is you have a computer. Conference call systems can list the people on the call on the screen and highlight the person/people talking, which is way better than trying to sort it out by voice and AR positioning cues. No extra fancy/expensive equipment needed.