Apple is planning to update and expand its popular AirPods lineup over the next 18 months and, according to a report by DigiTimes (via MacRumors), future versions of the wireless earbuds could integrate additional sensors.
Future AirPods will incorporate ambient light sensors
The Taiwanese publication reports that Apple is planning to add “ambient light sensors” to upcoming versions of the earbuds within the next 1-2 years. The rumored 2021 AirPods and AirPods Pro could be the first to benefit from the upgrade.
Industry sources claim ASE Technology, a component supplier based in Taiwan, is going to handle the production process. The company has reportedly purchased more packaging machines in recent months to prepare for demand.
ASE Technology has already been contracted to handle high-end mmWave technology for future 5G iPhones and iPads, according to industry sources. This latest effort would help solidify the relationship it has with Apple.
The report in question, which is paywalled, makes no mention of what the new sensors will be used for. A separate report
suggests it could enable a series of health features, however.
Heart rate and blood oxygen monitoring might be planned for AirPods
Bloomberg reported two years ago that Apple was looking into the possibility of launching a pair of AirPods that featured a built-in heart rate monitor. Such a product has yet to materialize, but health features still appear to be very much in the works.
As Samsung demonstrated in 2016 with the original Gear IconX
earbuds, light sensors can play a crucial role in enabling heart rate monitoring. The same can be said for blood oxygen monitoring, a feature that’s expected to debut later this year on the Apple Watch
By adding support to AirPods, Apple could open up its health features to a much wider audience. Whether the company can do so without drastically modifying the AirPods designs remains to be seen, though.
Ear-based clip-on pulse oximeters, which can also be used to measure the heart rate, work by shining light through the earlobe and detecting how much passes through, which enables the measurement of oxygen levels. The existing design of AirPods might make that difficult to achieve.
Other possible health features for AirPods include the ability to detect temperate and perspiration levels through skin contact. Apple has patented a solution that would enable these but is yet to implement it.
Other upgrades are also expected
Aside from health features, the next-gen AirPods and AirPods Pro are expected to offer a range of upgrades. These should include a new audio chip – Apple H2 – that improves the audio quality and range at which the wearables can be used.
Apple is said to be working on improvements to Siri as well. These should debut on the HomePod
2 and HomePod Mini later this year but are likely to be carried over to future AirPods and other products including the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro.
The third-generation AirPods will reportedly be introduced in the first quarter of 2021, presumably at the annual Apple event. The second-generation AirPods Pro, on the other hand, aren’t expected until the fourth quarter of 2021, which means they could arrive at an October event.