Forget Face ID and Touch ID, Apple's working on Ear ID

AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • Apple is working on AirPods sensors that could authenticate you based on your ear shape.
  • A new patent imagines an AirPod that could bounce an ultrasonic signal around a wearer's ear.
  • Not all patents turn into products so this may never see the light of day.

If you're bored of Face ID and are sick of waiting for Touch ID to make a return to Apple's flagship iPhones, fear not. Apple appears to be working on technology that would allow a future pair of AirPods to use ultrasonic signals to map out the inside of your ear — turning it into a fingerprint of sorts.

Yes, your ear could be used as a form of biometric authentication according to a new patent spotted by Patently Apple.

The authorization of the user may be further based on obtaining biometric information from a device, such as the wireless headphones. Biometric information associated with an ear of the user may be obtained from wireless headphones. For example, various signals may be output at wireless headphones wherein an impulse response is received from wireless headphones based on the output signals. The impulse response may correspond to a biometric representation related to an ear of the user (e.g., an inner-ear representation).In accordance with a determination that the obtained biometric information corresponds to reference biometric information (e.g., a reference inner-ear representation), the user is identified as an authorized user of wireless headphones and associated a mobile device.

Or more simply, AirPods could emit a signal that would then be measured upon its return. That would then allow the earbuds to confirm that the response matches one that's already been confirmed as accurate. If it is, everything unlocks, just like other biometric security systems.

As always though, it's important to remember that Apple tests and then patents all kinds of things. Only a portion of those patents turn into shipping products or features, but there's no denying that this is one idea that would make us feel like we're living in a sci-fi world and for that reason alone, I'm in!

Whether this would represent the best iPhone authentication system or not isn't clear but as a concept, it sounds like something that could have legs. Or more accurately, ears.

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.