The patent, which was spotted by Apple Insider, describes a 'Wireless Ear Bud With Pose Detection', and shows how Apple is researching the ways future AirPods could assist users with exercise routines.
"Ear buds may have sensors to gather orientation information such as accelerometer measurements during user movements," says the patent application. It goes on to describe how a "host electronic device" - an iPhone, for example - could communicate wirelessly with a pair of earbuds and supply users with coaching and feedback, while assessing head movements or other exercise routines.
This kind of technology would tie in nicely with Apple Fitness Plus, the company's subscription-based workout service that gives you a choice of exercise classes to try at home, including high-intensity interval training (HIIT), indoor cycling, treadmill running, yoga, strength, and pilates.
So, if your Apple Fitness Plus instructor asks you for a specific yoga pose, your wireless earbuds could work out whether you're doing it correctly based on your head's position. No more lazy downward dogs.
Registering this kind of movement accurately could be tricky, but the patent suggests that Apple could be working on a sort of catalogue of head positions to measure user data against, saying that the earbuds could measure deviation from a starting position, or from a "fixed orientation to the earth".
Data gathered from accelerometer in the AirPods could by measured against a "neutral reference frame". As Apple Insider puts it, someone at the Apple Fitness center in Los Angeles "may even now be working through a catalog of head movements while being recorded".
Based on those measurements, "audible feedback may be provided to a user based on evaluation of user performance of the head movement routine," according to the patent. "Other suitable actions may be taken such as issuing performance reports and alerts."
Will this feature come to the AirPods Pro 2?
The AirPods Pro 2 are rumored to be the company's next true wireless earbuds, and they're said to be launching this year - so the fact that Apple is investigating this kind of technology now suggests that fitness tracking could be a big feature of the company's next noise-cancelling earbuds.
Apple already uses accelerometers in the AirPods Pro, AirPods 3, and AirPods Max to ensure that Spatial Audio content is accurately positioned in relation to users' head positions, so we know that head tracking is possible. We also know that Apple loves to integrate its devices within its wider tech ecosystem, so AirPods that work seamlessly with Apple Fitness would make sense.
Fitness tracking is one AirPods Pro 2 feature that we've been hearing about for a long time. Last year, Apple was awarded a number of new patents, one of which suggests that the next AirPods could coach users through workouts.
According to Patently Apple, the patent describes AirPods that use inbuilt sensors to "gather orientation information such as accelerometer measurements during user movements".
We initially thought that patent would relate to the AirPods 3. However, they launched in 2021, with no fitness tracking features of this kind - so it's entirely possible that Apple has been saving its workout tech for the AirPods Pro 2.
We may not have too long to wait before we find out. Most AirPods Pro 2 rumors point to a late 2022 release date, though there is an Apple event expected to take place on March 8. We're not super convinced that we'll see new AirPods in March, but there's always a possibility that the AirPods Pro 2 will turn up alongside the iPhone SE 3 and the iPad 5.
- Everything we know about the AirPods Pro 2
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Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.