Apple has patented earphones that everyone around you can hear

Apple has patented earphones that everyone around you can hear
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple is making good on its 'Think Different' slogan by patenting a pair of earphones that everyone around you can hear.

The patent (via Patently Apple) details a 'dual speaker system' that would include both a private and public mode. Private mode would work like most headphones, playing music into the wearer's ears. But public mode would channel the audio through an exhaust port over the wearer's ear to play music away from them.

Why? The use case is listed as smart glasses, much like the Apple Vision Pro VR headset. Chances are, this could help create a more immersive experience – after all, in the real world, not all sounds are piped straight into your ears.

You shouldn't have to worry about accidentally engaging public mode when in the library, as the patent claims that machine learning would determine what kind of environment the wearer is in and adjust the audio accordingly. So hopefully it wouldn't ruin everyone's study session.

A so-called 'context engine', powered by machine learning, would help decide how to play the audio depending on the user's location and the use case. It would also take into account the user's past actions, so whether they have listened to this type of content in this mode before.

It certainly sounds intriguing. Open-backed headphones have open rather than enclosed ear cups, and so their audio can be heard by people in the surrounding environment. But we've never seen anything quite like this.

It's just a patent for now, so there's no telling if Apple will implement it in any products, and if so, when. But it could bring a whole new audio dimension to the augmented/virtual reality experience.


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Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.