Apple has filed for a patent (number 10,149,041) for “earbuds with compliant member” that hints at features we could see in upcoming versions of the company’s AirPods, such as some of the biometric readings available with the Apple Watch.
The invention involves positioning a biometric sensor along an exterior surface of an earbud so it can be placed in direct contact with a portion of a user's ear during use of the earbud. In the patent filing, Apple notes that portable electronic device users have shown increasing interest in biometric tracking.
Biometric sensors often need to be in close or even direct contact with the skin to properly measure and track biometric parameters along the lines of heart rate, VO.sub.2, and core temperature.
Apple says that requiring a user to place a sensor in direct contact with the skin to track these types of biometric data can be overly burdensome, making adoption of the biometric tracking more difficult. The tech giant says that “mechanisms for unobtrusively measuring biometric parameters are highly desirable.”
Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “This application relates to earbuds configured with one or more biometric sensors. At least one of the biometric sensors is configured to be pressed up against a portion of the tragus for making biometric measurements.
“In some embodiments, the housing of the earbud can be symmetric so that the earbud can be worn interchangeably in either a left or a right ear of a user. In such an embodiment, the earbud can include a sensor and circuitry configured to determine and alter operation of the earbud in accordance to which ear the earbud is determined to be sitting in.”
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.