Apple wins a patent covering possible design changes for Future AirPods using Flexible & Bendable Materials for a Comfortable Fit
In late October, Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple is Planning an AirPods Overhaul with AirPods Pro getting a possible redesign and new chip(s) in 2025. Entry level AirPods are also to gain a revamp. In early November we covered an Apple patent regarding a possible new anchor and textured regions on AirPods to provide a superior fit.
Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent that reveals yet another AirPods focused design that may provide adjustable-shape housings. The housings may have bendable portions. Bendable metal members, hinges, or other flexible structures may be used in forming bendable structures for the earbuds.
Electrical components may be covered by a layer of molded foam. A cover such as a fabric cover may be used to cover the molded foam. Spacer fabric or other soft material may be interposed between the fabric cover and the foam. The housing may be bent or otherwise adjusted between two or more states such as a normal, non-sleep, walking state in which the housing is expanded for normal operation while a user is sitting or walking and a sleep state in which the housing is bent to enhance comfort while sleeping. The wireless earbuds may have illumination systems, sensors, and other components.
To enhance user comfort and to accommodate different usage scenarios, earbuds may be provided with housings that are soft to the touch and/or that have adjustable shapes and sizes.
For example, a pair of earbuds may have a housing that can be placed in a normal operating configuration (sometimes referred to as a walking or sitting configuration) in which the earbuds are configured to be worn securely as a user walks, runs, or sits upright.
When the user desires to sleep or otherwise rest the user's head horizontally on a pillow, the earbuds can be adjusted. For example, the housing of the earbud may be bent into a shape that allows the earbud to be comfortably worn while the earbud is compressed between the user's ear and a pillow.
In this configuration, which may sometimes be referred to as a sleep configuration, the earbud may be more comfortable to wear to sleep than when the earbud is in its normal non-sleep shape.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative adjustable earbud (e.g., a left or right earbud in a pair of earbuds); ) FIG. 3 is a side view of an illustrative earbud in an ear of a user in a first illustrative configuration; FIG. 4 is a side view of the illustrative earbud of FIG. 3 in the ear of the user in a second illustrative configuration.
Apple's patent FIG. 8 above is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative hinge formed from flexible material; FIG. 9 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative hinge formed from interlocking hinge structures; FIG. 16 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative earbud with an axially collapsible housing in an expanded configuration; FIG. 17 is a cross-sectional side view of the illustrative earbud of FIG. 16 following axial compression to collapse the housing to a reduced-size sleep configuration in accordance with an embodiment.
Apple's patent FIGS. 23, 24, and 25 below are diagrams showing how the fabric of the adjustable housing can stretch to accommodate different respective elongation states.
Apple further noted that comfort may also be enhanced by forming portions of earbud 10 from soft materials. These soft materials may include soft polymer (e.g., polymer foam, elastomeric materials such as silicone or thermoplastic polyurethane), fabric (e.g., knit fabric, woven fabric, braided materials, felts, etc.), leather and other natural materials, and/or other pliable materials.
If desired, metal strands may be woven or otherwise formed into a fabric (e.g., to form a metal mesh). Fabric layer(s) for earbuds 10 that include combinations of multiple materials such as natural materials (e.g. cotton or wool), metal, glass, and/or polymer may also be used.
For more details, review Apple's granted patent 11818528.