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Apple patents headphones that can detect touch input and sense rotation

Headphone Patent
Headphone Patent (Image credit: USPTO/Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple has patented headphones that can sense touch gestures and detect rotation.
  • The headphones feature a touch interface integrated into the earpieces.
  • To make the gestures work in any orientation, the headphones can detect rotation depending on how you wear them.

Apple has patented over-the-ear headphones that can detect rotation and feature a touch interface integrated into the earpiece.

The patent is titled 'Detection of headphone rotation' and the abstract states:

Some embodiments of the disclosure provide systems and methods of detecting headphone rotation to properly process user input to the headphones. The systems and methods described herein may be used, for example, to detect a gesture (e.g., a swipe) received as user input on a touch interface of the headphones, such as a touch interface integrated into an earpiece. The gesture may be made in a particular direction, such as down toward Earth. However, headphones may be worn in a plurality of configurations, such as upright with the headband around the top of the head, downward with the headband around the back of the neck, or anywhere in between. Thus, the systems and methods described herein may be used to determine the rotation of the headphones in order to properly ascertain the intended gesture and perform an intended result.

The system is designed to allow users to control the characteristics of the audio coming through their headphones on the earpiece themselves, rather than on the source device, similar to how Apple's Beats headphones have volume controls on the side. However, rather than mechanical buttons, this patent is based around a touch screen interface that can detect gestures such as a swipe. In order for the touch screen to work in any orientation, the headphones can detect rotation depending on how you wear the headphones, meaning you can choose to have your headband over the top of your head, around the back of your neck, or anywhere in between.

This would mean that the same gesture would work however you choose to wear your headphones, regardless of how you wear them. For example, if swiping down with two fingers lowered the volume, you would be able to swipe downwards no matter which way your headphones were positioned on your head, and it would still work in the same way.

There's no guarantee that Apple's patents will ever see the light of day as real products. However, Apple is of course well versed in audio tech, in particular, thanks to its AirPods and also its Beats lineup. If Apple were to release technology like this, it could, of course, be integrated into a new model of Beats, or perhaps in Apple's own over-the-ear headphones.

Stephen Warwick
Stephen Warwick

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.