Apple patent involves current, and future, versions of the HomePod

Apple has filed for a patent (number 20170374465) for an “audio system with configurable zones,” which involves the upcoming HomePod, as well as possible future, bigger incarnations of the speaker system.

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Apple expects to ship 4 million HomePods next year, according to a Bloomberg report. Last month Apple said the smart speaker launch will now happen in “early 2018” instead of in December, as expected.

Announced in June, the $349 system is just under seven inches tall and looks like a piece of furniture. It will be available in both space gray and white. The HomePod also acts as a hub for HomeKit devices to provide remote access to home automation. It will use Siri to browse and select music from Apple Music, control the home through HomeKit, and answer questions.

Apple’s patent includes one or more speaker arrays that emit sound corresponding to one or more pieces of sound program content into associated zones within a listening area. Using parameters of the audio system (e.g., locations of the speaker arrays and the audio sources), the zones, the users, the pieces of sound program content, and the listening area, one or more beam pattern attributes may be generated. 

In the patent filing, Apple notes that speaker arrays may reproduce pieces of sound program content to a user through the use of one or more audio beams. For example, a set of speaker arrays may reproduce front left, front center, and front right channels for a piece of sound program content (e.g., a musical composition or an audio track for a movie). 

Although speaker arrays provide a wide degree of customization through the production of audio beams, conventional speaker array systems must be manually configured each time a new speaker array is added to the system, a speaker array is moved within a listening environment/area, an audio source is added/changed, or any other change is made to the listening environment. 

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Apple says this requirement for manual configuration may be burdensome and inconvenient as the listening environment continually changes (e.g., speaker arrays are added to a listening environment or are moved to new locations within the listening environment). What’s more, these conventional systems are limited to playback of a single piece of sound program content through the single set of speaker arrays. 

Apple wants to change this. Interestingly, the art accompanying the patent shows a much bigger speaker system than the upcoming 6.8 x 5.6 inch, 6.6 pound HomePod. And there have been rumors that Apple was considering a bigger, high-end audio system in the HomePod, which has been under development since 2014.

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.