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Apple’s AirPods Studio is a lay-flat storage design


In a series of patent applications, Apple lays out the potential technology in rumored upcoming headphones.

In a series of patent filings published Thursday, Apple detailed technologies for its rumored upcoming AirPods Studio headphones, describing tech that identifies details about a person’s ears as well as new designs to fold headphones down flat for travel.

In patent applications called Headphones With Increased Back Volume, Headphones With Magnetic Sensor and Headphones With Removable Ear Pieces, Apple outlined designs for its long-rumored headphones. Among the technologies Apple has tested, the company outlined sensors to identify how the headphones fit on someone’s ears, as well as ear pads that help to better block outside audio. 

Perhaps most interesting is Apple’s description of how headphones could fold flat, thanks to an unusual series of arches and a “spring band,” as Apple calls it, that make up the headpiece between the ear cups.

“Headphones have now been in use for over 100 years, but the design of the mechanical frames used to hold the earpieces against the ears of a user have remained somewhat static,” Apple said in the three patent applications, originally filed in May. “For this reason, some over-head headphones are difficult to easily transport without the use of a bulky case or by wearing them conspicuously about the neck when not in use.”

Apple’s patent filings offer a look at how the tech giant has set about remaking headphones ahead of its rumored launch of the AirPods Studio. The headphones, which Apple hasn’t discussed publicly, are expected to be sold under the Apple brand and as an accessory like the company’s AirPods or AirPods Pro Bluetooth ear pieces that have become popular with many iPhone owners.

Apple’s patent applications only offer a view into the company’s research, and they’re not always an indication of what will end up in future products.

 Earlier seen by AppleInsider, these patent filings do suggest how Apple may hope to differentiate any headphones from competing headsets by name brands such as Bose, Sony and Philips, as well as online brands like Anker.

There’s good reason to believe Apple could do it. The company doesn’t disclose AirPods sales, but one analyst predicted late last year that Apple headphones could become the company’s third most popular product behind the iPhone and iPad. 

“The key question is how big might AirPods ultimately become?” Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, said in a December note to investors. He estimated the headsets will ring up about $15 billion in revenue for 2020, though that was before the coronavirus pandemic spread across the globe, infecting more than 26 million people and killing more than 865,000 people. As it’s upended countless lives, the virus has also left an economic catastrophe in its wake, raising concerns about how Apple and other tech companies could ultimately be affected.

Those concerns aren’t stopping Apple from pushing out new products. The company still plans to launch a new iPhone in the coming weeks, though a little later than usual. Analysts and Apple watchers expect the device will include super-fast 5G wireless technology, among other things.

Apple’s headphones, meanwhile, are more of a question mark. They’d mark the first time Apple has branched into its own branded ear-cup headphones since buying the Beats music and device brand six years ago for $3 billion. Apple has kept upgrading that brand’s headphones and retaining branding for its music service too.

Leaks and rumors have pegged the AIrPods Studio as a premium headset, potentially costing $349. For that, Apple watchers say, the device will likely have sensors similar to the ones outlined in the company’s patent applications to identify the orientation of a person’s ear, as an automatic pause function for when the headphones are removed.

We’ll likely learn more about the headphones during Apple’s annual fall iPhone launch event, which is expected to be announced soon and held entirely online. CNET’s global team will cover the event, as well as other conferences that’ve shifted online, just as we always do — by providing real-time updates, along with commentary and analysis you can’t get anywhere else.

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