Apple has applied for a patent which suggests the company is planning a more interactive version of its popular AirPods case. This theoretically upgraded accessory would incorporate a display for showing track info, incoming calls, and other useful information, and could also work as a touchscreen or gesture-based device for accessing more complex commands than are possible via the headphones alone.
The patent, which has application number 17/948083 and was applied for last September, is headed “Devices, Methods, And Graphical User Interfaces For Interactions With A Headphone Case.” It was spotted by Patently Apple and may offer clues to the future development of one of Apple’s most lucrative product lines.
(It’s not immediately obvious that Apple is the applying company, but there are giveaways such as the inclusion among the inventors of William Lindmeier, who works at Apple as an “Interaction Designer,” and the multiple references to “iPhone®, iPod Touch®, and iPad® devices.”)
The gist is simple. There is a need, the patent’s summary argues, “for a headphone case that can… convey information to a user, through haptics and/or display devices,” and for one that “can control operations that are traditionally associated with headphones,” such as playback controls, and the ability to change audio sources and output modes. Apple’s envisioned solution to this need is a case with such potential upgrades as a touchscreen display, “tactile output generators” (ie haptics), and its own processor and memory.
It sounds somewhat similar to JBL’S Tour Pro 2 earbuds, which will sell for $249 when they launch later this spring. It also seems like the kind of functionality that could be passed off to an Apple Watch, given that most of the case actions would be fairly simple and quick.
It’s arguable whether there really is such a need, given that AirPods users can already access simple controls (namely pause and play, skip track, and volume controls) via the headphones themselves, and that they can access everything else described in the patent (track info, incoming calls and so on, plus more detailed controls) via the paired iPhone, assuming one is being used. Is it noticeably less of a hassle to take out an AirPods case than to take out an iPhone? Perhaps, but not by much. If the AirPods are paired with a Mac or other audio source it’s possible the application would be appreciably beneficial, but their most common usage by far remains as a partner to an iPhone.
And there are obviously downsides to kitting out an AirPods case with a touchscreen display. It would be more expensive and heavier, it would drain its battery quicker, and you’d need to allow more space for the additional components which might in turn mean a lower-capacity battery. Plus it’s an extra thing that can break–especially if you drop the case, which at the moment is a pretty durable object.
As ever with patent activity, it’s important to remember that such developments frequently go nowhere (having turned out to be impractical, or only ever existing as a means to fool rivals), or take a long time to reach fruition. The first AirPods model with a touchscreen case might not hit the market for years if it does at all. Keep up with the latest rumors by checking our regularly updated new AirPods guide.