Future AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max could sport automatically adjusting ear cushions. Apple has been granted a patent (number 11,240,585) for “identification of cushioning members in personal audio devices.”
About the patent
Headphones such as the AirPods Max include one or two audio-producing earpieces (also referred to as “ear cups”) that are designed to be worn over the ear or on the ear. The ear cups are typically connected to a headband, which can help to hold the ear cups in place and can also provide an electrical connection between the ear cups.
The ear cups are designed to be worn such that an audio-generating speaker contained in each ear cup directs sound toward an ear of the wearer. A cushion made of compliant material is typically provided around a peripheral portion of the ear cup in order to provide spacing between the speaker and the user’s ear and to provide user comfort while wearing the headphones.
The cushion may also provide sound insulation, preventing sound generated by the ear cups from leaking into the environment and/or preventing external sound from reaching the user’s ears.
Earphones such as AirPods and AirPods Pro generally include one or two audio-producing earpieces (also referred to as “earbuds”) that are designed to be inserted into the user’s ears (either into the ear canal or resting against the concha cavum) such that an audio-generating speaker contained in the earpiece (or earbud) is oriented toward the ear canal.
An ear tip (also sometimes referred to herein as a “tip”) made of soft material may be provided to cover at least the portion of the earbud that rests against the user’s skin. Similarly to cushions of ear cups, an ear tip of an earbud may increase user comfort and provide at least some degree of sound insulation.
All this is good, but Apple wants to take it a step further. The patent hints at AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max that can detect who is using them and adjust the ear cups are earbuds, accordingly.
Summary of the patent
Here’s Apple’s abstract of the patent with the technical details: “A personal audio device (e.g., headphones, earphones) can have an earpiece (e.g., an ear cup or earbud) with a removable cushioning member (e.g., headphone cushions or ear tips for earbuds). The cushioning member can include an identification tag that encodes identification data for the cushioning member.
“When the cushioning member is attached to the earpiece, the identification tag is brought into proximity with a tag sensor in the earpiece and the earpiece can read the identification tag to determine identification data for the cushioning member. The identification data can be used to modify a behavior of the earpiece and/or of a host device communicably coupled to the earpiece.”