Apple Creates Another New Patent: Air & Bone-Conduction Headphones

Apple Creates Another New Patent Air & Bone-Conduction Headphones

You know when someone sees me in my Bone Conduction Headphones at the gym or somewhere. They sometimes ask me what those are (meaning my Bone Conduction Headphones) and I tell them and explain what they do. Often the reaction is: Wow or those are cool! Not everyone is on board with bone conduction headphones but everyone also does not have hearing problems from earphones yet.

The Tech Evaluate team does our best to be impartial, but we really do love Apple products. Don’t get us wrong, we very much appreciate their competitors, but Apple seems to put certain artistry into everything we really like. They also know how to make our lives so much more convenient, but above all else, there’s one ability they have that makes us admire them so much.

It’s Apple’s Uncanny Ability To Always Be Ahead Of The Curve

It’s Apple's Uncanny Ability To Always Be Ahead Of The Curve

Apple has an almost superhuman ability to predict (and set) trends. Not everything they touch turns to gold mind you, Fitbits are giving the Apple Watch some stiff competition. But most of the time, Apple knows when the tide is changing, and more often than not they are the ones leading the current.

We’ve discussed this at length in earlier articles, but Apple led the digital music charge with iTunes and the iPod. Thanks to them the term MP3 became a household name, and the technology was replicated by a parade of imitators. Ironically MP3 wasn’t even the iPod’s primary music file. It actually used more advanced file types such as AAC, WAV and WMA, but we digress.

The company also made earphones cool too. To this day we still see people walking past with those two white wires dangling down from their ears. Did you know that in 2021, the iconic white Apple earphones will be twenty years old? That’s incredible, but wow does it make us feel old.

Under The Bus

Under The Bus

Apple have also never been afraid to throw their own innovations under the proverbial bus if something else new and exciting comes along. When over the cranium headphones came back into fashion, courtesy of rapper Doctor Dre and his Beats, Apple were quick to react. Buying the boutique brand and labelling them Apple Beats going forward. We imagine the good Doctor did well out of this exchange, but we’d wager Apple have done better.

Realizing that the headphone jack port was an outdated concept, Apple boldly and controversially did away with it. Meaning that going forward, consumers needed to use a lightning adapter, Apple’s new lightning headphones, or invest in a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones. Interestingly, this occurred around the same time that Apple bought into the hottest and most fashionable headphone brand around. Well played Apple.

iTunes itself has fallen victim to Apple’s ability to adapt and seemingly see into the future. Services like Spotify were starting to use their enormous bank of tracks to set up a music streaming service. The advent of 4G allowed Apple to do the same thing, and overnight Apple Music was born. Why is this important? Because Apple set a process in motion that made MP3 obsolete for all intent and purposes, a format it pioneered.

Of course, streaming music over the internet eliminates the need to download MP3s and store them on a device. With 5G on the horizon Apple has positioned themselves for a face-off with Spotify in a brave digital new musical world.

“What happened to iTunes?

With macOS Catalina, your iTunes media library is now available in the Apple Music app, Apple TV app, Apple Books app, and Apple Podcasts app. And Finder is where you can manage and sync content on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.”

Apple Support iTunes.

The Rise Of Bone Conduction Technology

The Rise Of Bone Conduction Technology

Like Apple, the history of Bone Conduction technology is another thing we’ve covered extensively in our writing. In some of these articles we’ve predicted that it’s only a matter of time until a company with the scope and vision of Apple takes notice of Bone Conduction technology. After all, we’ve said time and time again that this technology is so advantageous for so many reasons.

But it needs a catalyst, someone to strike the match and light the bonfire, an industry champion to take the technology to the next level. This is something Apple has done time and time again, especially with headphones and earphone technology. If Bone Conduction headphones are on the verge of taking off then Apple are surely aware of this, and must have taken steps to prepare? Well interestingly enough, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing, at least behind the scenes. And they started several years ago.

What Has Apple Done?

Apple U.S. Patent No. US9363596B2 System & Method of Mixing USPC – Bone Conduction

In June 2016 an obscure U.S. Patent Number US9363596B2 was granted to Apple to create a new headphone device which used Bone Conduction technology. Although it wasn’t the style of the Bone Conduction headphones we see today from manufacturers like AfterShokz. It was more like a hands-free system, and one that would use Bone Conduction technology to allow users to hear people better during phone calls. The idea was to use several tiny microphones along the wire, these would filter external noise and use vibrations to let it’s way into our inner ears.

What’s also interesting is the tech was designed to work both ways, allowing for the person on the other end of the phone to hear the one using the tech much more clearly. They must have decided against this concept or not used it yet, perhaps because of other advances in microphone technology that made this one surplus to requirements.

Apple Bone Conduction Patent Difference From Other Bone Conduction Headphones

Apple U.S. Patent No. US10728649B1 Multipath Audio Stimulation Bone & Air Conduction

In July 2020 almost exactly four years later Apple received a second Bone Conduction Headphone U.S. Patent Number US10728649B1,which includes an Air Conduction aspect that no other Bone Conduction Headphones have used.

Apple’s latest Bone Conduction Headphone design includes Air Conduction in combination with Bone Conduction to cover all of the audio ranges of low, medium, and high.

“The air – conduction transducer is configured to convert a component of the audio signals to air vibrations detectable by an ear of the user. The bone – conduction transducer is configured to convert another component of the audio signals to vibrations in a cranial bone of the user via direct contact with the user”

“The apparatus employs one or more filters to separate input audio signals to produce a high-frequency component, a mid-frequency component, and a low-frequency component.”

Apple Patent: Multipath Audio Stimulation Using Audio Compressors (Source: Google Patents)

This is an attempt by Apple to improve the sound quality of the current Bone Conduction Technology to a higher level.

That’s normal if we’re being honest, companies like Apple send across patents for ideas all the time. Our belief is Apple likes the idea of Bone Conduction but believes it users want a higher quality audio experience than is currently available.

“Bone-conduction headphones are also useful in environments where air conduction is not possible, such as underwater environments.”

Apple Patent: Multipath Audio Stimulation Using Audio Compressors (Source: Google Patents)

So What Next?

What's Next for Apple Bone Conduction?
What’s Next for Apple Bone Conduction?

This all still makes us wonder why Apple hasn’t used the basic idea to create some Bone Conduction headphones that exclusively focus on delivering sound to the user when they listen to music or audio. Like the other Bone Conduction headphones on the market, wouldn’t this be the best use of the technology? Why have Apple Bone Conduction headphones not appeared on the market yet?

We believe there’s several reasons for this:

1. Sound Quality Compared To Airpods or Headphones

Sound Quality Compared To Airpods or Headphones

If you have ever listened to music or an Audiobook through Bone Conduction Headphones in comparison to Earbuds or Airpods I would not begin to tell you that Bone Conduction Headphones are better in sound quality because they are not.

To me, the purpose of my bone conduction headphones is to give what feels like me giving my eardrums a rest periodically. To use Bone Conduction Headphones in an environment where it is necessary to be able to hear but also do things like exercise, ride a bike in traffic, or any activity so my ears are not blocked and I can still hear audio playback while enjoying another activity.

Although I do listen to music on my Vidonn or Aftershokz Bone Conduction Headphones. I personally use bone conduction headphones for listening to audiobooks or talking on the phone as opposed to music most of the time because the sound quality although important is not as essential as for music.

It is also a pleasure to be working around the house with your significant other and if they say something to you while you’re listening to music or an audio book you can hear them and answer them while not having to take off your headphones or take them out of your ears.

Some may say so what you have to pull your earbuds out of your ears but it is much more fluid if they are not in your ears and it is a natural progression or act. That is very cool if you ask me.

2. Apple Is Waiting For The Right Time.

It could be that simple. Let’s look at the Spotify example above. Sometimes it’s wise to let a competitor enter the market first and see how well they do. If the product or service utterly fails, then you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and money. The failure will forever be associated with your competitor and not you.

This is a risky strategy of course, your competitor could succeed, not only that, they could redefine the marketplace and push the envelope in ways we may not have imagined. This innovation will now always be associated with them and anyone who tries to emulate their success will be seen as a pretender to the established throne.

Look at the Zune as an example, it was an excellent MP3 player, but nobody could realistically compete with the mighty iPod. In the smartphone market it’s taken some time for anyone to really stand up to Apple. Samsung is taking the fight to them valiantly, but when was the last time you bought a Nokia?

Ultimately Apple needs to pick which strategy they will adopt, but it ultimately will be dictated by their confidence in the product and consumer appetites for it.

3. Apple Has Other Priorities

Bone Conduction Nasal Transducer Glasses Patent

We also believe this plays a part in why Apple’s Bone Conduction headphone set has not yet materialized. Besides working on Self Driving Car Technology with the Apple Electric Car Project, currently earbuds are enjoying their time in the sun.

AirPods are wireless earphones which are placed into individual ears and connect to your music device via Bluetooth. Apple is keen to sell their own version known as AirPods, this trend is yet to reach its apex and Apple won’t want to cannibalize their own sales of Air Pods by pushing a new innovative product so soon.

Apple also has plans for its own brand of over the ear noise cancelling technology in the pipeline with the Apple AirPods Studio. At this present moment there may be more demand for these headphones than Bone Conduction headphones. At least for now.

4. The General Public Aren’t Aware Of The Benefits Of Bone Conduction Headphones Yet.

Bone Conduction technology is becoming more popular. We’re spotting more and more people using it in the gym and other places where it may come in handy. The public needs to learn about the technology and the safety benefits it brings. As Bone Conduction headphones don’t cover or cancel noise coming to our ears, they are considered a safer alternative to standard or noise cancelling headphones by some.

They allow users to keep their wits about them and be aware of the environment during use. If you enjoy listening to music in the gym, it can be a hassle to take your headphones off every time you need to speak to someone or be alerted to a potential hazard. Bone Conduction headphones eliminate this. You can hear the music and anything that may be going on around you. Cyclists also find this helpful, after all they need to be alert to other road users, and not doing so could be a fatal mistake.

Bone Conduction For The Hearing Impaired

As we have discussed in many other articles, such as “Are Bone Conduction Headphones Safer?” this by the way is nothing in comparison to a product like this can have in helping different levels of hearing-impaired people.

There are many hearing aid products that use Bone Conduction in the Audiology assistance of hearing impaired people. Apple is a champion of technology attaching hearing aides to iPhones and there use in so many areas.

Final Thoughts

Bone Conduction Transducer
Bone Conduction Transducer Pad

While the first Apple Bone Conduction patent came and went, we wouldn’t count Apple out of the Bone Conduction Headphone race yet as they obviously are still working on the technology and studying it.

The company always has multiple irons in the fire and always waits for the best time to pull the trigger on any given one of them. As Bone Conduction technology continues to rise in prominence, we expect it’s only a matter of time until Apple jumps on this bandwagon, then hijacks it and leads it to its inevitable destination.

Apple has so many options with there inventiveness and attention to quality design. The nature of the Apple U.S. Patent No. US10728649B1 Multipath Audio Stimulation Bone & Air Conduction lends itself to many possibilities with attachment to the body that we have not even thought of yet.

Localization and placement of the Bone Conduction Transducer is not limited to the cheekbones and can go many places on the body. We can’t wait to see what happens!

References:

https://research.chalmers.se/publication/509257/file/509257_Fulltext.pdf

https://www.techradar.com/news/airpods-studio-release-date-price-and-rumors

John Mortensen

I am a project manager, tech writer, and science enthusiast who loves to study the latest technology, such as AI, comedy, quantum computers, smartphones, headphones, and software.

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