A new patent awarded to Apple today suggests that the company’s audio plans for future iPhones may go beyond reportedly ditching the 3.5mm headphone socket in favor of Lightning and Bluetooth. The patent is very densely-worded, but seemingly describes a method of getting higher-quality and higher-volume audio from speakers built into slimmer devices.
Apple’s statement of the problem is clear enough.
Given the area constraints imposed on many portable electronic devices, it is increasingly difficult to provide high-quality audio sound output and pickup without hindering the ability to make portable electronic devices smaller and thinner. Consequently, there is a need for improved approaches to provide high-quality audio sound output and/or pickup from portable electronic devices as they get smaller and thinner.
The language describing Apple’s proposed solution is less clear, but from a combination of this and the accompanying diagrams, I at least have a working theory of what is being suggested …
Rather than just using the volume of air you can push through the speakers themselves, Apple appears to be proposing to allow more of the internal space of the device to act as an audio chamber.
The invention pertains to a portable electronic device that provides compact configurations for audio elements. The audio elements can be drivers (e.g., speakers) or receivers (e.g., microphones). In one embodiment, an audio element can be mounted on or coupled to an intermediate structure (e.g., a flexible electrical substrate) having an opening therein to allow audio sound to pass there through. In another embodiment, an audio chamber can be formed to assist in directing audio sound between an opening an outer housing and a flexible electronic substrate to which the audio element is mounted or coupled thereto.
Effectively, turning other components of the iPhone – like a circuit board – into part of the speaker. This would allow a greater volume of air to be pushed, increasing the sound volume achievable from internal speakers, as well as potentially increasing the quality of the audio. The patent describes using the same technique to improve the microphone(s).
Interestingly, the views of 9to5Mac readers on ditching the 3.5mm headphone socket appear to be almost evenly split between the 43% happy to use Lightning or Bluetooth and the combined 40% who don’t care about a slimmer iPhone and/or want to strangle Jony Ive with their headphone cable.