Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Speculating on Apple's new earbuds becoming an augmented reality product

In addition to a noise cancelling option, Apple's Airpods Pro feature "transparency mode":

According to press materials, the best way to sum up the feature is that it's the "outside world layered with your music or your phone call." Due to the AirPods Pro's dual microphones and new silicone-tipped design, the gadget is able to filter certain sounds from the outside world while also making sure that whatever you're listening to on your device is crystal clear.

The way the Transparency mode works is by leaving on the part of Active Noise Cancellation which is focused on eliminating internal sound. So, when you wear the AirPods in Transparency mode, you're not getting the full noise-canceling effect. Rather than having to turn your volume all the way up to block out loud noises, you'll be able to listen to whatever you want at a comfortable volume while still being aware of your surroundings.
Maybe they can be used for more, soon:
Augmented audio is less intrusive and a natural domain. Your AirPods Pro could be sending you turn by turn directions as you walk or bike through a city. Hey Siri is their ready to go interface. It would be a natural for reading recipes or a thousand other things. Anything where you want contextual information that is an augmentation of the acoustic soundscape around you. Then you don't have to switch modes completely and take out a device and/or give up the acoustic soundscape. It would be dandy for seniors - hey Siri, where did I leave my glasses?

Speaking of senior citizens AirPod Pros have almost all the features needed to make a very high quality hearing aid. There is a test that uses feedback to find the best fitting silicone earpiece adapter. It woudn't be a big deal to do it over a range of frequencies for each ear and compute the corrections to sound in transparency mode. It would become an active computational hearing aid. They could probably even correct for tympanic movement (suggestion by Bryan William Jones). At the very least these could be the equivalent of non-prescription reading glasses and that could be free assuming you own these. Apple could work on what it would take to do proper testing and get them certified.
Also, look at how great they would look in a clear case:

Airpods Pro are currently 6% off at Amazon.