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Google's next-gen Pixel Buds could be controlled by swiping your skin

Google patent detailing on-skin controls for earbuds
(Image credit: Google (via WIPO) )

Google is certainly going in the right direction when it comes to AirPods-challenging earbuds, as proven by the five-star Google Pixel Buds A-Series. Now, it seems the company has some intriguing ideas for future earbuds and wearables. 

A patent filed by Google (opens in new tab) to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), published on 3rd March (and first reported by LetsGoDigital (opens in new tab)) shows a “Skin interface for Wearables” including a smartwatch and earbuds, which are depicted being controlled by a user touching their skin, rather than the device itself. The patent application explains that tapping or swiping the skin near the wearable creates a mechanical wave – a movement which built-in sensors can translate to on-device actions.

Included images in the file show this working by touching the skin in front of the ear for a pair of earbuds, or by tapping or swiping the wrist, back of hand or forearm for the smartwatch.

As with any patent, whether the features detailed will ever make their way into any future Google earbuds or watches is unclear, but on-skin control for earbuds does sound desirable, especially to those of us who find ourselves inadvertently pausing tracks when fiddling with or adjusting the fit of one earpiece.

This isn't the first time Google has tried such an innovation, either. The Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen) features the Soli sensor for motion detection and Sleep Sensing, for starters. Not only can you stop and resume tracks by simply showing your Hub the palm of your hand, the chip housed within the speaker can tell you how long you slept for and how restful your sleep was. Then, there's the slightly older Pixel 4, the first phone with a radar sensor. Waving left or right – your choice – above the screen allowed you to skip songs forward and back during music playback; waving across the screen silenced calls and snoozed alarms.

Has Google's gestural functionality been a hit? Debatable, (the feature did not return in Google's Pixel 5 or Pixel 6 smartphones) but then, nobody had claimed that actually touching a display-enhanced smart speaker or a phone to control it had ever proved unreliable or annoying. Touch controls for earbuds, on the other hand, often receive such a criticism... 

For now, we wait. 

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Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds.