Apple is working on AR headphones allowing digital voice positioning

A newly revealed Apple patent indicates that the company is currently developing an augmented reality headphones technology. Apple had previously indicated its support for the augmented reality concept, and now seems to be working diligently on delivering products in this niche.
Apple AR headphones
Apple has already demonstrated a commitment to music, particularly with its purchase of the Beats headphones system. Photo: Apple

Digital voice positioning

The headphones will allow digital voice positioning, and will potentially be marketed as a valuable tool in conference calls. The idea behind this is that people using the Apple AR headphones can tell where a person is positioned within room, even if they are not physically present.

Text from the abstract of the patent notes that Apple will use a pre-processor in the technology, with this device able to receive the audio signal of each caller, associated with the corresponding meta data, and from this derive a virtual and spatial representation of where that signal is emanating from.

While Apple will market its AR headphones as being ideal for the corporate world, the technology could also easily be applied to regular calls and entertainment products. With this in mind, the patent also includes information on a head-tracking controller, which would would be capabile of analysing in which direction a listener is facing.

Apple AR system
A leaked patent suggests that the purported Apple headset could be used in conference calls. Photo: Jordan Schachtel via Wikimedia.

In-person meeting

This would then enable the AR headset to take advantage of multi-channel audio, delivering the ideal playback based on the direction in which a user is facing, as well as also taking into consideration the location of the other participants in a call. To a great extent, the headset will be able to mimic the experience of being in an in-person meeting.

Other information leaked on the Internet indicates that Apple is also working on some AR glasses. So it seems likely on this basis that the two products will work in tandem, possibly allowing participants in a virtual conference call to see where people are located, as well as hearing audio from the appropriate direction.

Apple filed a patent for the AI glasses in April 2018, indicating that it has been working internally on a “head-mounted device with an adjustable opacity system.”

Other information on its AR glasses system suggests that Apple will include an “adjustable opacity layer.” This layer will include the lenses of the device, and utilize ultraviolet light in order to control the transparency of them. This would then block or dim lights in the location, in order to improve the contrast between projected images and real-world objects.

Apple AR headset
Google’s Glass project is one example of an AR system. Photo: Mikepanhu via Wikimedia.

AR challenges

It will be interesting to see, when they meet the light of day, whether any of Apple’s mooted AR products really strike a chord with consumers. Apple has firmly pitched its tent in the AR camp, and is apparently significantly less enthusiastic about virtual reality. But previous AR releases, perhaps most notably Google’s Glass, have been less than successful in the commercial marketplace.

Regardless of this, we shouldn’t expect to see the Apple AR headset or glasses system for quite some time, with recent reports suggesting that the headset will be available in 2022 at the earliest, with the AI glasses likely to follow in 2023.

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