Apple’s HomePod hasn’t quite dominated the industry in the way that its phones and tablets have (yet, anyway), but the underlying technology that powers the smart speaker is undeniably impressive. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the company is thinking about employing the same beamforming technology — which enables speakers to automatically adjust to the size and shape of the room — in its upcoming over-ear headphones.
In a new Apple patent published this week (via 9to5Mac), the company describes two potential uses of beamforming in its headphones, the first of which would make the headphones reversible by automatically detecting which ear cup is over which ear. Apple describes how this would work on a technical level in its patent:
Embodiments of the invention relate generally to a system and method for automatic right-left ear detection for headphones. Specifically, in one embodiment, the headphone includes two earcups that are identical and include at least three microphones to capture acoustic signals. In another embodiment, each of the earcups may be coupled to an earcup detector that receives the microphone signals from at least one of the earcups and determines which of the earcups is worn on the user’s right ear.
The other possible use case would be to let the headset understand when you’re on a call and automatically block out background noise with a process called “voice beamforming,” which reacts to the user’s mouth:
[A] processor […] may be used to perform voice beamforming towards the user’s mouth to capture the user’s speech and perform noise beamforming away from the user’s mouth to capture environmental noise.
Reports about Apple’s rumored over-ear headphones began popping up earlier this year, and were later backed up by a Bloomberg report in July. The headphones are supposedly scheduled to launch in 2019.