AirPods may one day use pressure detection to sense being in your ear

Air Pods Pro on stage
Air Pods Pro on stage (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

What you need to know

  • An Apple patent could reveal how future AirPods may use pressure detection to sense when they are in your ear
  • It would improve the accuracy of the current methods, which use optical sensors and accelerometers.
  • Current tech is useful, but can often result in false positives.

A newly published Apple patent has revealed how future AirPods may use an air pressure sensor to indicate whether or not they are being used.

As reported by AppleInsider, the patent is titled 'Acoustic in ear detection for a hearable device' and the abstract states:

A method for determining a current usage state of an earphone that includes a speaker and an air pressure sensor. The method obtains a pressure signal from the air pressure sensor that indicates air pressure proximate to the earphone, the air pressure sensor produces the pressure signal in response to the earphone being inserted into an ear of a user. The method processes the obtained pressure signal to determine that the earphone is in a state of use, and in response, performs at least one of (1) outputting an audio signal through the speaker signifying that the earphone is in use (2) establishing a wireless connection with a media playback device to exchange data between the earphone and the media playback device, or combination thereof.

AirPods Pressure

AirPods Pressure (Image credit: USPTO)

The patent is based around improving the current tech within AirPods, which can detect when you insert or remove, the device from your ears. The patent notes how in many current devices (including AirPods), that this is currently done by proximity sensors. The patent states that this tech has its drawbacks, because it is susceptible to false positives, often activating in your pocket. The other option, measuring low-frequency sound produced when your earphones are inserted into your ear, requires a perfect seal. Anything less can again result in "inconclusive results."

The patent explores a technology that would allow the use of an air pressure sensor to determine the current usage state of the earphone. Simply put, the sensor would detect the change in air pressure induced by inserting AirPods into your ear, activating the earphone. Air pressure sensor technology would be advantageous over current solutions because it wouldn't require a perfect seal around the tip of your AirPods.

Whilst there's no guarantee that this patent will ever see the light of day in a real product, it's very interesting to see how Apple could improve the reliability of its sensors within AirPods.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9