New AirPods Pro could be controlled with futuristic 'in-air gestures'

AirPods Pro
(Image credit: Future)

Apple has been awarded a patent that describes some of the cool features we could see in future AirPods Pro models, including the ability to control the true wireless earbuds with futuristic 'in-air gestures'. 

The patent, which was spotted by Patently Apple, describes how in-air gestures – for example hovering a hand over the AirPods – could work alongside the touch controls already employed by the AirPods Pro, allowing you to trigger different actions. 

An initial tap on the earstem could alert the AirPods to an incoming gesture – and while Apple hasn't gone into specifics on the type of gestures that could be used and their effects, it's plausible that cupping a hand over your ear could turn off noise cancellation or pause your music, or swiping forwards in front of the earbud could skip tracks, for example. 

It works by using capacitive sensors to detect the proximity of the user to the AirPods. As Patently Apple explains, "a capacitive sensor may be incorporated into an enclosure of the wearable audio device and used to detect a capacitance between an electrode of the sensor and the user". 

"As the user moves toward (and optionally presses on) the enclosure, the capacitance changes. This change (or absolute value of the capacitance) may be used to determine a position of a user's finger relative to the enclosure."

Accessible AirPods

As well as offering more ways to control the AirPods Pro, this kind of technology could make it easier to use them in situations where using the touch controls or voice control is difficult. 

For example, while running, it can be tricky to accurately press down on the earstems, and making voice commands might not be desirable – or possible if you're very out of breath. 

Another possible benefit of this technology is that it could make using the AirPods easier for anyone who has difficulty with fine motor skills and may find the touch controls too fiddly to work. 

While there's no guarantee that the technology described in this patent will see the light of day, we'd love to see it in action in the rumored AirPods Pro Lite

The AirPods Pro Lite will reportedly be an entry-level version of the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro.

Rumors surrounding a new version of the AirPods Pro have been circling since mid-February, after a report from DigiTimes claimed that the new true wireless earbuds will launch in the first half of 2020. 

Of course, they never materialized, with recent comments from industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggesting we may be waiting for a while, speculating that the so-called AirPods 3 would start mass production in early 2021, with a new AirPods Pro model arriving in 2022. 

Olivia Tambini

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.