After being announced back at WWDC 2021, this week Apple has finally released a beta version of its Conversation Boost feature for the AirPods Pro.
Slated for an official release later this fall, Apple senior engineering program manager Gagan Gupta described Conversation Boost as a way “to help people with mild hearing challenges stay more connected in conversations,” when the feature was announced back at WWDC.
While it seems similar to what Samsung is trying to do with the Ambient Noise feature on its Galaxy Buds which boosts the volume of nearby sounds and voices, for Converstation Boost, Apple is taking things one step further by taking into account the directionality of the speaker.
Gupta said that by combining computational audio with the iPod Pro’s beamforming microphones, Conversation Boost is able to focus on the person talking in front of you, while also using Ambient Noise Reduction to cut down on other potentially distracting sounds.
Despite being announced back in June, Conversation Boost was not available in the first version of the AirPods Pro beta, but earlier this week Apple rolled out its second beta which made Conversation Boost available for testing.
Even though options like Apple’s Conversation Boost and Samsung’s Ambient Noise features are still somewhat in their infancy, it’s already quite clear that computational audio and machine learning is going to become a big trend for future wireless headphones.
Instead of simply relying on earbuds or headphones to listen to music or answer calls, many audio engineers like Samsung’s Han-gil Moon are already trying to come up with ways to create a device that “understands the user better.” “Everyone wants an experience where you don’t have to switch between multiple devices,” the engineer recently said. “You can just use a single device to meet all your purposes.”
Instead of having to manually pause your music or take your earphones out when entering a store or starting a conversation, future earbuds and headphones might know when to automatically turn off active noise cancelling and turn on something like Conversation Boost, ideally without the need for any direct inputs. So in the future, it seems likely that a headphone’s ambient noise processing will be just as important as a devices’ ability to produce a high quality listening experience.
While we generally don’t recommend installing beta software on your primary device, if you’re interested in testing out the Conversation Boost or the new AirPods Pro beta software, you can install it now by going here, just so long as you have a valid Apple Developer account.
Meanwhile for the rest of us, Conversation Boost is expected to be officially released to the public at large later this fall alongside new versions of iOS, iPad OS, macOS Monterey, and more.