Apple’s Next-Gen Headphones Won’t Even Have an Off Button

Close up look at the Apple AirPods Max (From: ©adrianhancu/123RF.COM)
Close up look at the Apple AirPods Max (From: ©adrianhancu/123RF.COM)

The company that removed the headphone jack is now going after the headphones’ power button.

A new patent released this April shows us a rare glimpse into the future of Apple’s wireless headphones. The newly invented tech will allow users to transition between the different power modes, including turning the headphones off or switching to sleep mode, by folding the headphones’ arms.

Apple’s Foldable Headphones Patent

Many of today’s headphones have headband arms that fold, as demonstrated in the patent’s figure 2C below. So far, this design has been about saving space and protecting the headphones from damage during storage or transport.

Headphones in a completely folded state. (from: Patent US11317187B2, Smiechowski & Santana)
Headphones in a completely folded state. (From: Patent US11317187B2, Smiechowski & Santana)

The new technology would include sensors in the joints to detect if they are folded or extended. Based on the state, the headphones can predict what the user desires. For example, if both sides are folded, this signals that the listener is done, and the headphones can turn off.

When one arm is folded, and the other is left extended, the headphones enter battery-saving standby mode. From here, the headphones would use less power but not shut down operations entirely, allowing a quick return to play.

The standby mode, on the other hand, mimics the position many people lay their headphones in when jumping to another task, such as answering the door.

According to the patent background, most wireless headphones with built-in auto on/off and sleep mode features to conserve battery fall behind on the user listening experience. This is due to a lack of these features not being implemented intuitively.

In contrast, these foldable headphones activating multiple operating modes are designed to ensure better power conservation. While possibly retaining a superior listening experience.

Headphones in standby position. (from: Patent US11317187B2, Smiechowski & Santana)
Headphones in standby position. (From: Patent US11317187B2, Smiechowski & Santana)
This publication came from Apple-affiliated inventors Christina J. Smiechowski and Carlos M. Santana. Before this work, the two inventors worked on adjustable headphone bands, formable ear hooks, and other audio-related technology.

Why Do Smart Foldable Headphones Matter?

At a glance, headphones triggering a change in the device state on being folded seems like a minor tweak, but it gives us an opportunity to really look at what Apple is doing. The philosophy of the company – which has been about simplifying things for the user – reflects heavily on this invention.

”It takes a lot of hard work, to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.” – Steve Jobs, co-founder, and former CEO, Apple.

Keeping to the brand’s vision, the company continues to aim for simple, value changes over extreme ones. It is a philosophy Apple holds dear to this day, evident in the words of Tim Cook, current CEO, “Some people see innovation as change, but we have never really seen it like that. It’s making things better.”

Apple’s other foldable devices technology

This isn’t the first time Apple has attempted to break ground in the realm of foldable technology.

In 2016, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted the company a series of 51 patents, which included a headset design that allowed for the ear pad to fold back when the user wanted to hear someone talking or simply when they wanted to take a break from listening to music.

Moving forward to 2018, the company once again secured a patent for a foldable phone whose main highlights were a flexible hinge and the use of fabric for its housing. Soon after, in 2019, Apple secured a patent for a foldable screen that could be used for iPhones and other devices.

At the time of writing this article, there are already hints about Apple releasing a patent on a new foldable camera technology allowing for better zoom capabilities and, consequently, sharper image quality.

However, according to Patently Apple, an Apple-centric blog focused on the company’s intellectual property endeavors, most patents come to fruition years after their initial conception and sometimes, never at all. Given that backdrop, we might have to wait a considerable time to experience the current invention in a tangible way.

💬 Conversation: 2 comments

  1. The current design is just fine, folded headphones look cheap. I’ve had no issues traveling with Airpods Max. What I have had issues with is hardware failures. ANC button stops working, Volume crown stops working, Head detection stops working, factory reset stops working. Then everything stops working.

    Maybe Apple could focus on making the Airpods Max a less hardware faulty product by using a sealed connector, instead of open socket mini-lightning connectors that are prone to corrosion. Note that hundreds of posts regarding this.

    1. Hey Aaron, thanks for reading!

      I’m voting on giving Apple the benefit of the doubt on this one. Current Airpods Max models are already designed. While I’ve never been a factory worker, I can imagine that there would be a lot of factory changes to change around the build of the product at this point. Whenever there is a problem that enough people complain about, it usually gets addressed one or two product models down the line.

      Meanwhile, other teams come up with more innovations for the new model… like this folding thing!

      Speaking of the folding thing… I used to teach online with a headset and would have honestly loved a feature like this. Being able to take the headset off and just fold one side in to know that nobody could hear you for awhile would have been great. There was a mute button, but you always know the company can still probably hear in those situations!

      Anyhow, thank you once again for taking the time to comment! As a token of appreciation, I dredged up a couple of articles we’ve written about AirPods not working:


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