A new Apple patent reveals the Cupertino company’s work on pressure-sensitive earbuds that are capable of customizing sound output to better suit the user’s ear size. The earbuds are designed to adjust a range of frequencies to provide an optimal sound experience for all.
Apple’s patent, which is titled “Pressure sensing earbuds and systems and methods for the use thereof,” was originally granted in 2011 — however, Apple recently made a number of modifications that were published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Wednesday.
Apple highlights the issue with existing in-ear headphones — including its own EarPods — which do not achieve an airtight seal inside a user’s ear. This allows air to enter the ear canal, which can change the earbud’s frequency response and have an impact on sound quality.
To combat this, Apple details a new earbud with pressure sensors that is capable of adjusting sound based on the size of the wearer’s ear. The sensors are arranged to detect gaps around the earbud that could allow air in, then modifies its audible frequencies accordingly.
“In some embodiments Apple calls for the use sensors made from a class of elastomeric material called Quantum Tunneling Composites,” explains AppleInsider. “When force is applied to a QTC, its electrical resistance drops proportionally in known quantities, meaning said force can be measured.”
Apple also suggests using piezoelectric or capacitive sensors.
The earbuds are also equipped with an onboard processor that powers the audio adjustments, matching the pressure data with an index of audio profiles. In some cases, the earbuds constantly refresh pressure readings and dynamically adjust audio levels continually.
As always, patents like this one are never a guarantee of things to come from Apple, but they do give us some insight into what the company is working on behind the scenes.
Given Apple’s focus on audio, however — especially after its purchase of Beats last year — we wouldn’t be too surprised to see a set of earbuds like these ones in the future. But don’t expect them to come bundled with your iPhone for free; they will almost certainly be a premium option with a premium price tag.