Apple’s delayed wireless AirPods may not be the only new earphones the company has in the works. A patent originally dating back to 2008 but only published today describes what seems a logical next step for a company increasingly focused on health and fitness: a sports earphone.

The patent describes two types of functionality, one geared to gathering biometric data to provide fitness data, the other allowing gesture-based control of an iPhone …

As is usual with patents, the language is broad enough to cover all the bases, describing everything from built-in headphone sensors to a separate monitoring system that can be attached to headphones while exercising and removed afterwards, but an integrated unit would seem the more Apple-like approach. Apple notes that the headphones may be wired or wireless.

On the monitoring side, Apple describes the idea as being a logical extension of Nike shoe sensors.

The sports monitoring product includes a module that is placed within a shoe of the user, and the digital media player operates to wirelessly communicate with the module so that the distance and speed of the user can be displayed by the digital media player […]

The invention pertains to a monitoring system that can be placed proximate to the head or ear of a user. According to one embodiment, the monitoring system can be used with a hearing device, headphones, earbuds or headsets. The monitoring system can, for example, be used to monitor user activity, such as during exercise or sporting activities. The positioning of the monitoring system can also facilitate sensing of other user characteristics (e.g., biometric data), such as temperature, perspiration and heart rate.

On the gesture side of things, the patent explains how head gestures could be used for all of the standard music controls.

The movement of the user’s head can be utilized to invoke commands for the media playback device. For example, moving one’s head in a predetermined manner can be considered as a gesture. In the case of the media playback device such a gesture can cause play, pause, next, back, skip, volume up, or the volume down.

But the approach, says Apple, needn’t be limited to music.

The same head gesture can initiate a different action in different applications […] 

When another call comes in, the user can be prompted with a screen that asks whether to skip an incoming call or place current call on hold to answer incoming call. In response, the user could simply reply yes or no as he would in normal conversation […]

In another implementation, an up or down movement creates vertical scroll event, whereas left or right movement creates horizontal scroll event, and further holding ones head in up, down, left or right position can increase or accelerate the rate of scrolling until the head is moved back to normal.

The patent goes a little overboard in discussing the possibility that ‘an entire head gesture language may be developed,’ even going so far as to describe a Morse code type approach to text input! 

The various motions that may be detected include, for example: left tilt, right tilt, back and forth left and right tilt, forward tilt, back tilt, back and forth forward and back tilt, left rotation, right rotation, back and forth right and left rotation, swirling the head in a circle in vertical orientation, swirling the head in a circular manner in a horizontal orientation. The motions may also be distinguished or altered as a function of speed, time, pauses in between, etc.

But the idea of using simple head gestures to control music or accept or decline a call seems entirely plausible.

As always with Apple patents, only a tiny number of them only make it into actual products. In this case, it seems we may be waiting a while even for the AirPods the company already announced, let alone a future model.

What’s your view? Would you like gesture-based control of music and phone calls via a future generation of AirPods? Take our poll and share your reactions in the comments.

Via Patently Apple

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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