Imagine, if you will, a pair of AirPods or AirPods Pro whose charging case also happens to have a touchscreen on it. Now imagine that touchscreen lets you control said AirPods, without the need to pick up your iPhone or iPad.
You might not have to imagine something like that for too much longer, with Apple already having patented such a thing. And while that doesn't always mean that we'll see that product in Apple Stores any time soon, the idea is sound — even if it isn't immediately obvious why that might be.
Sure, you could just pause your music by tapping your iPhone. Of course you could skip to the next track using the iPad's on-screen controls. But is that always the best course of action?
I'd wager that sometimes picking your iPhone up to do something as simple as interacting with your audio controls is more of a problem than some might initially think. It isn't hard to do, of course, and many of us already do it on the daily. Even multiple times an hour, in fact. But just because we already do something doesn't mean that we should always do it that way.
Apple has made a big deal out of trying to remove distractions of late. It added things like Do Not Disturb years ago, then we got Focus Modes and then Focus Filters. All of those features were designed to make sure that people have a healthier relationship with their devices.
It's the same with things like Screen Time, a feature that isn't just about limiting how much time our kids spend on their iPads. Sometimes it's about stopping ourselves from doom-scrolling on Twitter as well.
So when I look at an AirPods charging case with a screen built in, I think along the same lines.
I can't be alone in picking up my iPhone to do something as simple as change the volume on a podcast and then find myself drawn in by notifications. It's all just too easy to do, whether we want to or not.
The best way to avoid those distractions is to never see them. And assuming Apple doesn't try and turn the AirPods charging case into a mini iPod touch, this patent could help.
Don't dismiss the Apple cool factor
The other reason I'm all for this patent becoming a product is something else entirely. Sometimes, Apple just needs to maintain the cool factor.
It's no secret that Apple is late to the foldable phone game. Even the very best iPhone you can buy today can't bend in the middle. And if it does, it won't be unbending anytime soon.
In lieu of the cool factor that a foldable phone would undoubtedly offer, an AirPods charging case with a screen on the side would definitely make waves and get attention. It'd also be something that the many, many AirPods wannabes out there just won't be able to copy. Not at the bargain-bin price points that they often live at. And anything that helps Apple differentiate its admittedly costly accessories from the rest of the wireless earbuds on Amazon has to be a good thing.
But will it ever happen?
As I mentioned earlier, Apple patents don't mean products. And Apple does have its engineers patent a whole lot of ideas. But some of those patents do become products that we use each and every day. Who is to say that won't happen here?
Sure, a touchscreen might not have been the thing that I'd have put at the top of my AirPods wishlist before, but that's what makes it so typically Apple. It's a feature I wouldn't have asked for — but now it's in my head, I want it.
And building things people didn't know they wanted until the day they did is what Apple is all about.
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Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.
Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.