Apple Patents Lightning Compatible Wired-Wireless Headphone System

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published an Apple patent today that describes a hybrid analog/digital stereo headphone system capable of switching seamlessly between wired and wireless audio modes (via AppleInsider).

The patent for "Audio class-compliant charging accessories for wireless headphones and headsets" distinguishes the system from traditional headphones by its use of an electrical connector capable of transmitting both digital and analog signals, which would make it compatible with Apple's proprietary Lightning connector protocol.


The wired contacts in the connector utilize "differential signaling" that enable it to transfer power and audio data through a single cable without compromising sound quality, while the wireless component of the headphones comprises an internal battery, processor, memory, and antenna for communicating with a source device such as an iPhone.

Design details are sparse, but the patent notes that the hardware would fit into in-ear, on-ear and over-ear styles of headphones.

As with all Apple patents, the usual caveat applies in that the invention may not see the light of day in any future product. That said, the system it describes is consistent with rumors that Apple plans to ditch the headphone jack for the fall 2016 iPhone 7 in favor of a Lightning-equipped headphone accessory or Bluetooth-based wireless listening solution similar to the Bragi Dash headphones.

Article Link: Apple Patents Lightning Compatible Wired-Wireless Headphone System
 

ForkHandles

macrumors regular
Jun 8, 2012
174
359
This sounds like a great idea. I doubt that it would be compatible with ear buds in its first iteration though. Then again if you love your music you probably prefer bins.
 

sshambles

macrumors 6502a
Oct 19, 2005
728
981
Australia
This really doesn't bother me, really if anything no headphone jack is fine. Evolution was going to remove it eventually. A Lightning one is fine, or USB-C which replaces Lightning charger. My next headphone purchase is a Bluetooth set anyhow (Master&Dynamic MW60).
 
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Piggie

macrumors G3
Feb 23, 2010
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I would say there is a VAST difference in usability and practicality between having one or two lightnings ports.

Needing people to mess around with one hole for charging and wired headphones will be a big physical deal for many.
Having two ports, means a small change to headphone connectivity, but minimal disruption long term
 

Mums

Suspended
Oct 4, 2011
667
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I've gone through about four Bluetooth speakers and don't like any of them. Even the best ones have pairing issues at least occasionally, and the sound has never been fantastic - most are too bass heavy.

I hope they don't force us to use choppy Bluetooth headphones.
 

Dilster3k

macrumors 6502a
Jul 20, 2014
790
3,205
Calling it now... The next iPhone obviously won't have a headphone port, as patents and leaks indicate, it should instead have a smart connecter port though. I think this will be used to connect to the alleged wireless AirPods similar to how NFC works.
 

Cwolk

macrumors regular
Jun 3, 2015
147
92
NJ, USA
If Apple were to actually have two lightning ports, it would be contradictory to the point of why they would remove the headphone jack. They would remove it to achieve a thinner phone with less room allocated for ports, and a more minimalistic approach. Putting two of the same port on a phone is ridiculous and contradictory to what they would try to achieve.
 

Dave245

macrumors G3
Sep 15, 2013
8,000
5,759
Calling it now... The next iPhone obviously won't have a headphone port, as patents and leaks indicate, it should instead have a smart connecter port though. I think this will be used to connect to the alleged wireless AirPods similar to how NFC works.
Well there are rumours that the iPhone 7 will feature a smart connector, this apparent leaked picture shows one, however i think it's fake, the picture itself to me looks to have been photoshopped. https://www.macrumors.com/2016/04/13/iphone-7-smart-connector-no-stereo-speaker/
 

mw360

macrumors 68000
Aug 15, 2010
1,664
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Great, so this whole thing is just another play for multiple layers of licensing fees. The 3.5mm port just isn't making Apple any money so it has to go...
 

AdonisSMU

macrumors 604
Oct 23, 2010
6,617
2,193
Calling it now... The next iPhone obviously won't have a headphone port, as patents and leaks indicate, it should instead have a smart connecter port though. I think this will be used to connect to the alleged wireless AirPods similar to how NFC works.
See I think they have way too much treble....and not nearly enough bass or anything close.
 

rctlr

macrumors 6502a
May 9, 2012
738
175
I read this as the Headphones will be capable of wireless, and digital or analog over cable.
So headphone will work over bluetooth, lightning or analog(headphone jack) cable.

The iphone7 can then drop the headphone jack for lightning or wireless connection to the headphones.
When connected via the lightning cable it will play music and charge the headphones.
 

Exile714

macrumors 6502a
Jan 14, 2015
683
1,092
I like nice headphones, but until every 3.5mm port is replaced by Lightning ports for all my audio devices, I'm not investing in a Lightning-only pair of headphones.

But most good headphones these days have removable 3.5mm wires. So, give me a sturdy Lightning to 3.5mm cable and I'll let Apple do whatever they want with their stuff.
 

ForkHandles

macrumors regular
Jun 8, 2012
174
359
I would say there is a VAST difference in usability and practicality between having one or two lightnings ports.

Needing people to mess around with one hole for charging and wired headphones will be a big physical deal for many.
Having two ports, means a small change to headphone connectivity, but minimal disruption long term
No chance and not much need for two lightning ports. Although I see a situation where charging and listening happen at the same time I suspect people will just revert to using the inbuilt speaker.
Or buy a beautiful pair of not overpriced Beats Bluetooth/wired headphones with chargeable battery!
 

Iconoclysm

macrumors 68020
May 13, 2010
2,424
1,674
Washington, DC
Probably 2 lightning top and bottom.
If they were going to go that route, they should do USB-C and Lightning.
[doublepost=1461246879][/doublepost]
Great, so this whole thing is just another play for multiple layers of licensing fees. The 3.5mm port just isn't making Apple any money so it has to go...
The real issue is that it takes up more space than it's worth. The jack itself is three times as deep let alone wide when compared to lightning. Also, sound quality over lightning will be better, and there's no need for extra electronics to do the digital to analog conversion in the phone.
 

username:

macrumors 6502a
Dec 16, 2013
705
365
I've gone through about four Bluetooth speakers and don't like any of them. Even the best ones have pairing issues at least occasionally, and the sound has never been fantastic - most are too bass heavy.

I hope they don't force us to use choppy Bluetooth headphones.
This article could not be more clear.

You would have a choice between wireless and wired earphones. Don't like wireless? Plug them in. Need wireless to workout? Unplug them. Run out of power in the earphones? Plug them in.

Sounds great to me.
 

mneblett

macrumors 6502
Jun 7, 2008
369
0
Apple didn't get a patent on this idea. The Patent Office merely published Apple's patent APPLICATION (as they do for virtually all patent applications, circa 18 months after the application is filed).

The Patent Office likely has not even started to examine the application to see whether the idea is patentable.
 
I would say there is a VAST difference in usability and practicality between having one or two lightnings ports.

Needing people to mess around with one hole for charging and wired headphones will be a big physical deal for many.
Having two ports, means a small change to headphone connectivity, but minimal disruption long term
I predict that by 2017 or 2018 Apple will use wireless charging anyway which will enable you to do both simultaneously. A single lightning port will likely remain for wired charging/headphones if necessary. But by 2020 I bet Apple will completely remove any port.
 

Mums

Suspended
Oct 4, 2011
667
559
This article could not be more clear.

You would have a choice between wireless and wired earphones. Don't like wireless? Plug them in. Need wireless to workout? Unplug them. Run out of power in the earphones? Plug them in.

Sounds great to me.
Oh - excuse me Mr. Smartypants.
 

ApfelKuchen

macrumors 68040
Aug 28, 2012
3,754
2,328
Between the coasts
What I "see" here appears to be a set of Bluetooth headphones that has a Lightning port that could be used for charging/pairing like the Magic Mouse 2, Magic Trackpad 2, and Magic Keyboard, with the added capability of carrying either digital or analog audio. Since Bluetooth headphones already contain a digital-to-analog (D/A) converter and power amp for driving the headphone amp/speakers, the notion of carrying an analog signal from the iPhone suggests they're bypassing the active electronics in the headset for the sake of a faster charge (though I'm not sure why that would deliver an appreciable improvement in charging speed) or to run the system with minimal/no power. There's no particular reason to use analog if the goal was simply to bypass radio-related quality degradation - they could pump digital audio via cable from the iPhone directly to the D/A converter in the headphones.

Getting beyond these particular headphones and looking at what Apple would need to do if they eliminated the 3.5mm jack altogether... then the analog signal capability becomes more important. It's clear that it's possible to pump out analog audio over either a Lightning or USB-C interface, and that DC power can certainly be carried at the same time, if necessary. So far, Lightning hasn't been used for analog output.

In the case of USB-C it can already be done, but it seems the "driving" device (phone/tablet, etc.) needs a separate, internal switching mechanism to place analog audio on the digital signal lines (I guess it's not part of the standard USB-C chip). I would hope Apple had the foresight to build this into its design from the first, so that older iPhones/iPads/iPods with Lightning ports will be compatible with these new headphones.

Potentially, there are two ways to feed a set of analog headphones from a Lightning (or USB-C) port:
1) Adapter that converts the digital audio output of a Lightning/USB-C port to analog, with the audio amplification necessary to drive the headphones (the adapter also needs smart connector capability in order to negotiate with the Lightning port).
2) Headphone cable/adapter with a smart connector chip that signals to the iPhone to deliver amplified analog audio output via the Lightning/USB-C connector.

Obviously #2 is the cheaper, more elegant approach. This brings us back to this headphone patent... the notion that the design can deliver either analog or digital suggests the patent is intended to cover both eventualities - that the headphones require an analog input, or that the headphones already have the capability of handling a digital input. That would make this more than just a headphone design.
 

Mac 128

macrumors 603
Apr 16, 2015
5,360
2,927
The real issue is that it takes up more space than it's worth. The jack itself is three times as deep let alone wide when compared to lightning. Also, sound quality over lightning will be better, and there's no need for extra electronics to do the digital to analog conversion in the phone.
No the DAC and amp is still necessary for the built-in speakers, and headphones, but they can be much lower quality, and therefore cheaper.
 
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