Apple has applied for a patent (number 20220019403) for “systems, methods, and graphical user interfaces for selecting audio output modes of wearable audio devices.” It involves, among other things, the ability to easily send Spatial Audio output to various devices.
What is Spatial Audio?
On May 17, 2020, Apple announced that Apple Music is bringing “industry-leading sound quality” to subscribers with the addition of Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos. Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio is available to Apple Music subscribers at no additional cost. The company says Spatial Audio gives artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences for their fans with true multidimensional sound and clarity.
About the patent filing
Audio output devices, including wearable audio output devices such as headphones, earbuds, and earphones, are widely used to provide audio outputs to a user. However, Apple says that conventional methods for playing audio on wearable audio output devices are limited in the types of audio output modes in which the wearable audio output devices can output audio.
For example, conventionally-used audio output modes, such as stereo and mono audio output modes, provide audio with respect to a frame of reference that is tied to the audio output devices.Apple says this “can make the listening experience less immersive and less realistic than the listening experience provided when outputting audio using a spatial audio output mode.
Spatial audio simulates a more realistic listening experience in which audio seems to come from sources of sound in a separate frame of reference, such as the physical environment surrounding the user. What’s more, an audio output device that supports a spatial audio output mode “enables the realistic and immersive aspects of a public listening experience while also providing the non-intrusiveness of a private listening experience,” Apple says.
In the patent filing the tech giant notes that conventional methods of selecting audio output modes also fail to save audio output settings that have been selected for a particular context (e.g., for a respective application, for a respective set of audio output device, for a respective user, etc.) for future use.
This requires a user to select the same settings again at a later time. In addition, conventional methods take longer and require more user interaction than necessary, which results in increased user mistakes and, more generally, wasted energy. These latter considerations are particularly important in battery-operated devices.
Summary of the patent filing
Here’s Apple’s abstract of the patent filing: “A computer system causes output of audio information from a first application to a set of one or more audio output devices in accordance with a first audio output mode previously selected for the first application using a system audio output setting control. After, the computer system receives a request to play audio from a second application different from the first application.
“In response, the computer system causes output of audio information from the second application to the set of one or more audio output devices, including, in accordance with a determination that a second audio output mode, different from the first audio output mode, was previously selected for the second application using the system audio output setting control, causing output of the audio information from the second application via the set of one or more audio output devices in accordance with the second audio output mode.”