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Apple Patent Hints at New Smart Headphones

Apple may be working on a new set of over-ear headphones with a built-in array of microphones that could be used for some interesting smart features. A new patent first surfaced by the Patently Apple website describes headphones with a total of 10 built-in microphones.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

With 5 microphones built into each earcup, the headphones would be able to better isolate a person’s voice from any background noise. This should help with phone calls, and also ensure that Siri understands voice commands even in challenging environments.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Apple

However, Apple doesn’t just want to use all those mics for noise cancelling. Instead, the company aims to help people who keep putting their headphones on the wrong way. From the patent application:

“In one embodiment, a system for automatic right-left ear detection for a headphone comprises a first earcup and a second earcup that are identical. (…) When the first earcup is worn on a user’s right ear the first microphone is at a location farther from a user’s mouth and the second microphone is at a location closer to the user’s mouth.”

This means that the headphones would automatically sense which earcup sits on which ear, and adjust stereo sound accordingly — doing away with the need for special markings for left and right earcups.

It’s worth noting that companies regularly file patents for technologies that ultimately aren’t incorporated into any products. However, Apple has clearly seen headphones as a growth market, and invested in ways to differentiate itself from other companies in the space. Case in point: Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo estimated last year that the company would sell as many as 28 million Airpods in 2018.

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