Future AirPods reported to get ambient light sensors, possibly to replace Apple Watch

AirPods and Apple Watch
AirPods and Apple Watch (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • A new report says future AirPods will include ambient light sensors.
  • The report doesn't say what the new sensors will be used for.
  • They could be part of a health initiative.

Apple is set to add ambient light sensors (ALS) to a future pair of AirPods, according to a tease of a future DigiTimes report. But that teaser doesn't say why.

While the full report might have more information, all we currently have to work with is a claim that ALS will be added to AirPods within the next two years.

Apple is expected to incorporate ambient light sensors (ALS) in next-generation AirPods devices in the coming 1-2 years, and Taiwan's ASE Technology may handle the backend process for the new component, as it has moved to purchase more packaging machines

So why would Apple add such sensors to earbuds? AirPods already know when they are inside your ears thanks to the optical sensors that are present. It's unlikely that those sensors would be replaced which leaves us with the possibility that a new feature could be on the – admittedly far away – horizon. And that could be related to health.

Apple already makes a considerable health play with Apple Watch. But a patent from October last year suggested that it was looking to bring similar functionality to AirPods. That could include tracking a wearer's heart rate, temperature, and more.

Biometric AirPod sensors

Biometric AirPod sensors (Image credit: iMore)

Portable electronic device users have shown increasing interest in biometric tracking. Biometric sensors often need to be in close or even direct contact with the skin to properly measure and track biometric parameters along the lines of heart rate, VO.sub.2, and core temperature. Requiring a user to place a sensor in direct contact with the skin to track these types of biometric data can be overly burdensome, making adoption of the biometric tracking more difficult. Consequently, mechanisms for unobtrusively measuring biometric parameters are highly desirable.

The use of ALS could allow this patent to come to fruition – fingers crossed that the full DigiTimes report will shed some more light on Apple's plans.

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.