Doctor Apple is coming in with another fastball pitch that could potentially reposition its AirPods as more than just a pair of premium earbuds. Apple is reportedly trying to enable USB-C on AirPods, make them connect to the upcoming Vision Pro headset, and engineer ways the buds could read users’ internal temperature through the ear like a hometown doctor’s oversized ear thermometer.
That last bit is one of the most interesting use cases for Apple’s premiere earbud technology. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that the tech giant is angling its wearable tech directly for the $US10 billion med-tech industry — as if reaching a $US3 trillion valuation already wasn’t enough damn money.
Like many smartwatches, the Apple Watch already does body temperature sensing. Though none of these devices are rated for anything near medical grade, gauging heat is much harder on the wrist than through the ear. The Apple Watch only collects that data when users are idle or asleep. Apple could incentivise users to plug in their AirPods if they’re feeling feverish.
AirPods could also potentially help screen for hearing loss. The report notes Apple would play users different tones and sounds and then ask them which they could perceive. Still, to actually qualify as a medical device it would need to obtain regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The Apple Watch currently contains FDA-approved ECG technology for measuring heart rhythm, so Apple may be hoping to position its ear wearables as a health-tech alternative. Based on recent patent applications, Apple has moved toward interpreting its tech in a fitness/health context. Patents show Apple using its full suite of wearables for full-body tracking and full-body scanning.
The Cupertino company’s buds have already been noted as working effectively as a cheaper alternative to hearing aids through its Live Listen feature. Apple has reportedly hired more engineers from traditional hearing aid companies to build on these plans. According to Gurman, Apple is potentially thinking of more ways it can position AirPods as somewhere equivalent to medical-grade devices.
This tech may be a few years out. As Gurman noted, Apple is on a three-year cycle with its AirPods, and we only just got our hands on the 2nd Gen AirPods Pro last year. In the meantime, Apple is more focused on getting its Vision Pro MR headset out the door. The 2nd gen AirPods Pro should have some interconnectivity with the headset to make use of spatial audio and new features for automatically moving between noise cancelling and transparency modes coming out alongside iOS 17.
Apple’s also moving to more common charging cables. The switch to USB-C will align with Apple’s reported plans to switch to the more-universal charging standard for the next iPhone model. Making fun USB-C hacks defunct is only part of the grand scheme, however. Some reports have noted that Apple could throttle energy and data transfer in non-Apple brand cables. There’s no reason Apple would skimp out on making proprietary cables default for its AirPods as well.
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