Apple's AR/VR headset could use wireless optical audio transmission to AirPods based on new patent

Apple Optical Audio Patent
Apple Optical Audio Patent (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple has been granted a new patent relating to optical audio transmission.
  • Wireless optical audio transmission could be used for high-bandwidth connectivity to AirPods.
  • Images within the patent appear to show a headset beaming audio to AirPods using the technology.

Apple is widely expected to announce a new AR/VR headset at some point over the next 18 months or so, depending on which timeline you believe. Now, the company has been granted a new patent that could outline how the headset will transfer audio to something like a future pair of AirPods, too.

The patent was first spied by Patently Apple and is, as ever, full of wording that's hard to read at best and purposefully obfuscated at worst. But the gist is simple — it could allow for high-bandwidth audio to be sent wirelessly without the need for Bluetooth. In fact, it would likely bypass the low bandwidth issues Bluetooth causes completely.

A system that includes an audio source device configured to obtain audio data of at least one audio channel of a piece of program content. The audio source device has an optical transmitter for transmitting the audio data as an optical signal and a radio frequency (RF) transceiver. The system also includes a wireless earphone that has an optical receiver for receiving the audio data as the optical signal, a RF transceiver for transmitting feedback data indicating a reception quality of the received optical signal at the wireless earphone as a wireless RF signal, and a speaker for outputting the audio data contained within the optical signal and/or the data packets as sound.

The patent shows what appears to be glasses sending wireless audio to a pair of AirPods, but you have to imagine this is related to Apple's rumored mixed reality headset.

It's important to remember that Apple patents a lot of things that never turn into products or features, and such technology could still be impacted by something as simple as something getting between the transmitter and receiver — like hair, for example. However, Apple's engineers could well be working around that and there is talk of a secondary — likely Bluetooth — connection throughout the patent as well.

Apple was rumored to be ready to announce its mixed reality headset this year, but recent claims have that now not happening until 2023.

Oliver Haslam

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.