When you think of AirPods, you think of yet another Apple product that redefined an industry. Apple’s desire to create an all-screen iPhone prompted it to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 series in 2016. That’s when Apple announced the first-gen AirPods, which were one of the “fixes” Apple proposed to iPhone buyers for dealing with the absence of the 3.5mm audio port. The AirPods became instant best-sellers when they launched, forcing all of Apple’s rivals to follow Apple’s lead and come up with AirPods alternatives.
Apple upgraded the AirPods with a second-gen model that got better internals and wireless charging and then released the AirPods Pro, which featured a new design and active noise cancelation support. Apple is expected to upgrade the AirPods and AirPods Pro further this year, with several rumors already detailing the expected design and feature changes. While the AirPods’ main purpose will remain to deliver audio wirelessly from nearby devices, an Apple exec seemed to confirm that the earphones might be getting an awesome hidden feature.
Apple announced a few novel AirPods features at WWDC 2021 that will be available soon, including Dolby Atmos support, spatial audio for FaceTime conversations, and better Find My support. But Apple didn’t say anything about health-related features it is considering for the wireless earphones.
Reports in previous months did indicate that Apple has been looking at adding health monitoring features to the AirPods. Well-known Ming-Chi Kuo and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman have made such claims in previous research notes and reports, respectively. Gurman’s latest update on the AirPods Pro 2 claimed that they’d include “updated motion sensors with a focus on fitness tracking.”
Apple’s vice president of technology, Kevin Lynch, who routinely hosts Apple Watch segments during Apple’s events, spoke with TechCrunch about Apple’s increased interest in health and how the company got there with the help of the Apple Watch.
Towards the end of the interview, after going through the Watch’s early days at monitoring health and explaining the more recent walking steadiness feature that will be available when iOS 15 and watchOS 8 rollout, Lynch had this to say about sensor fusion and whether AirPods will be used in that approach to gathering health data:
“We already do sensor fusion across some devices today, and I think there’s all kinds of potential here.”
Lynch did not outright say that AirPods will collect health data points that could be used to tweak health parameters monitoring, but his answer came in response to a question about the wireless earphones. Walking steadiness relies on Apple Watch and iPhone data, but it could also harness data points from AirPods in the future. This is what sensor fusion refers to, using multiple sensors on different devices to monitor health parameters.