Apple Wins AirPods Pro with Force Sensors Patent that also reveals possible Future Features like Offering In-Air Gestures & more
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 67 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. In this particular report we cover a new granted patent with no history under Apple Inc. This is the first time this has been made public, directly as a granted patent under Apple. The AirPods Pro patent covers audio output that may be responsive to various types of input received at the device, including voice, touch via tactile structures and new in-air gesture input as presented in our cover graphic.
Force sensor controls were adopted in the latest AirPods Pro that were released in October 2019. Apple noted that the force sensor also makes it easy to play, pause or skip tracks, and answer or hang up phone calls.
This is partially a patent fulfilled, though there are other concepts that still may come to market in the future, like integrating a force sensor built into the face-side of the AirPods Pro case as you'll see further below.
Although the main focus of the patent is force sensors for the AirPods Pro, Apple makes it clear that the invention may also apply to other devices in the future. For instance hidden force sensors could be built into the face of an iMac, MacBook, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch and possible other devices such as future AR glasses.
Technically speaking, the sensors may include substantially any input device, sensor, sensing element, sensing structure, switch, or the like, or combination thereof, that is responsive to environmental changes around the wearable audio device.
As one example, an incorporated sensor may detect a touch or proximity of a user or object to the wearable audio device. Continuing the example, a capacitive sensor may be incorporated into an enclosure of the wearable audio device and used to detect a capacitance between an electrode of the sensor and the user. As the user moves toward (and optionally presses on) the enclosure, the capacitance changes. This change (or absolute value of the capacitance) may be used to determine a position of a user's finger relative to the enclosure.
Likewise, an array of capacitive sensors may be operatively coupled to one another and used to track movement of the user along the enclosure. This may allow the wearable audio device to detect multiple gestures on or along the enclosure (e.g., a first gesture input, a second gesture input, and so on).
For example, the sensor may detect a first direction of a gesture input and a second direction of a gesture input along the enclosure (or other directions, motions, and so on the gesture input). The processing unit of the wearable audio device may, in turn, initiate one or more functions of the wearable audio device based on the detected input, such as increasing a playback volume in response to the first direction of motion and/or decreasing playback volume in response to the second direction of motion, among other possible functions.
An optical coating (transparent only to certain wavelengths) may substantially conceal the optical sensor from a user by camouflaging a lens and/or protective window of the sensor with the surrounding enclosure.
Magnetic sensors, strain sensors, resistive sensors, and electroactive polymers (EAPs) may be used to detect such input at the wearable audio device
Apple's patent FIG. 4A depicts a user wearing the AirPods Pro; FIG. depicts the AirPods Pro being able to recognize in-air gesture controls; FIGS. 6A, 7, 8 and 9 illustrate different force sensor configurations that may be used in the future.
Apple's patent FIGS. 10 and 11 are more examples of possible future touch areas including a button and a rotary wheel with FIG. 12 illustrating a touch control area set into the face side of the AirPods Pro case that could be used in the future.
Apple doesn't delve into what the touch controls on the case will be used for other than controlling "audio output" of the AirPods Pro "among other functions" not described. Guessing, one of the other features may be to unlock the case and pop it open for users.
Apple's granted patent 10,757,491 was originally filed in Q3 2018 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.