Apple has invented a very cool next-gen headphone design that could be operated in two modes. The first mode is the normal every day in-ear design that all headphones offer. The second mode is where the fun comes in. It will allow users to rest their headphones on a table or other surface and kick them into true speaker mode with a full amplifier so that they could share their music with others in any room or other social setting. What a fantastic idea! I'll definitely be first in line to buy these headphones.
Apple's Patent Background
Portable electronic devices have become common place in our society. Users typically listen to content on their portable devices using headphones, although there are speakers available that could be connected to portable devices to enable multiple users to listen in at the same time. This approach, however, may require a user to carry both a headphone and speakers, or may require the user to rely on speakers built into the device, which may not be as powerful or have as high a sound quality as external speakers.
Apple's Dual Mode Headphone Solution
Apple's invention covers the construction of dual mode headphones that could provide an audio output in two different modes of operation based on a user's use of the headphones. In particular, the headphones could provide audio directly to a user's ears in an in-ear mode, and can provide audio as speakers in a speaker mode.
Apple states that the headphones body could include a sound port through which sound, generated by a transducer or speaker, could be output. The body could include an articulated or movable component coupled to the sound port, such that the body could be moved from a first position corresponding to a headphone (e.g., an in-ear position) to a second position corresponding to speakers (e.g., a speaker position). In the second position, the headphones could rest as speakers on a surface (e.g., such that the sound ports extend away from the surface to provide better sound output).
Because the headphones may need to provide a louder output in a speaker mode, the headphones could include an amplifier that may be used to amplify audio signals in the speaker mode. The amplifier could be bypassed or turned off in an in-ear mode. The user could enable the speaker mode, and thus make use of the amplifier, using different approaches. For example, a user could press an appropriate button. As another example, the headphones could detect that the body has been positioned in the speaker position, and automatically change to the speaker mode (e.g., change the mode of operation of a circuit of the headphones).
Different approaches could be used to determine the current position of the headphones. For example, the headphones could include a sensor operative to detect the movement or position of an articulated component of the body. Any suitable type of sensor could be used including, for example, a mechanical sensor, a photoresistive sensor, a capacitance sensor, a proximity sensor, an IR sensor, an ambient light sensor, a Hall effect sensor, a resistive sensor, a sensor detecting impedance or voltage changes due to a contact between the headphones and a user, or any suitable combination thereof.
Built-In Safety Feature
To prevent injury to a user by outputting amplified audio while the headphones are near a user's ears, the headphones could include a sensor for detecting a distance between a user's ears and the headphones. For example, a sensor that detects contact between the headphones and the user could be provided. When the headphones detect that a user's ears are near the speakers of the headphones, the headphones could automatically disable the speaker mode and enable the in-ear mode. The headphones could then bypass the amplifier, or reduce the gain of the amplifier to provide an audio output at a lower volume.
To conserve resources, a power supply included in headphones for powering the amplifier could be turned off in the in-ear mode.
The Snap Band Design
One of the unique designs that Apple is proposing is shown above patent FIG. 4C. The headphones could include a snap band headphone. Headphone 450 noted above could include primary sound ports 460 and 462 positioned on first surface 472 of snap band 470. The sound ports could include circuitry including at least one speaker, and holes through which audio provided by the speaker may reach the user. Snap band 470 could include a band of material that includes at least two different stable configurations. For example, snap band 470 could be constructed such that it moves elastically to match a first shape in which first surface 472 is on an interior of a curved shape (shown in FIG. 4C), or a second shape in which second surface 474 opposite first surface 472 is on an interior of a curved shape (not shown).
The snap band could be selected such that, in one configuration, sound ports 460 and 462 are placed against a user's ears, and snap band 470 extends around a user's head (e.g., around a back of a user's head). The snap band could bias sound ports 460 and 462 towards the user's ears to ensure that headphone remains properly positioned on the user's head. In some cases, the headphone could include secondary sound ports 475 disposed on surface 472, which may be selectively enabled based on a mode of operation of the headphone.
Apple's '850 patent application was originally filed under serial number 098769 in Q2 2011 by sole inventor Edward Hyatt.
Note that technological revelations revealed in Apple's Intellectual Property filings are not to be interpreted as rumor. Furthermore, fictitious rumor site timetables associated with Apple inventions and/or designs should be dismissed.
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