Apple's next AirPods might not look like headphones at all

Apple's next AirPods might not look like headphones at all...
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple is putting the 'Air' in 'AirPods'. Its next AirPods might not be a pair of wireless earbuds at all, but rather a device you wear around your neck that fires audio through the air to your ears.

That's according to a new patent that was spotted by Patently Apple. The patent shows a small device that can be attached to the wearer's collar. This device features an audio module that directs audio waves to the user's ears.

To stop everyone nearby hearing what you're listening to, the audio waves would be focused by a "parametric array of speakers that limit audibility to others". Which sounds a bit more advanced than just playing music out loud from your phone's speaker.

USPTO / Patently Apple

(Image credit: USPTO / Patently Apple)

This might sound like the aural equivalent of pie in the sky, but it's not as far-fetched as it seems. The Noveto N1 – shown off in January this year – uses similar tech, but instead of a wearable device you clip to your clothes, it takes the form of a mini soundbar that sits on your desk.

So why would you want this when current headphones do the job perfectly well? It's all about making you more aware of your surroundings and not isolating you in a sonic bubble. The patent points out that "many audio headsets are somewhat obtrusive to wear and can inhibit the user's ability to hear ambient sounds or simultaneously interact with others near the user". Some people might not like anything going in their ears, too.

It's a similar approach to that taken by the Sony LinkBuds, which don't actually go into your ear canals. We found they create an open soundstage that invites in ambient noise, though in doing so they do sacrifice some detail.

Apple's patent looks like a cross between the LinkBuds and Noveto N1, taking the tech to the next level. Will we ever see it made real? Watch this space...


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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.