iOS 14's New AirPods Features: Spatial Audio, Better Automatic Device Switching, Battery Notifications and More

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Apple designed iOS 14 with several new features that improve how the AirPods and the AirPods Pro work with iPhones and iPads, including spatial audio, better device switching, battery notifications, and Headphone Accommodations for those who need help with sounds and frequencies.


This guide covers all of the new features that Apple added for the AirPods in iOS 14.

Spatial Audio (AirPods Pro Only)

When Apple announced spatial audio during the Worldwide Developers Conference, it was a feature that was a major surprise and one that sounded like something out of a science fiction movie.


With spatial audio, Apple uses dynamic head tracking and iPhone positioning to bring a movie theater surround sound experience to the AirPods Pro. Using directional audio filters and subtle adjustments to the frequencies that each ear receives, spatial audio is able to put sounds anywhere in space for an immersive audio experience when watching TV shows and movies.

Spatial audio is able to take advantage of the gyroscope and accelerometer in the AirPods Pro and iPhone to track head movement and device location, comparing motion data and remapping the sound field on the fly so it stays anchored to the iPhone even as your head moves around.


Implementing spatial audio in the AirPods Pro requires a firmware update that has not been released as of yet, so this may be a feature we won't be able to test out until iOS 14 sees a public launch. It does not work at the current time.

Automatic Device Switching

AirPods and AirPods Pro already feature quick and easy device switching for devices where you're signed in with your iCloud account, but iOS 14, iPadOS 14, tvOS 14, watchOS 7, and macOS Big Sur make device switching even easier.


With the updates installed, AirPods and AirPods Pro automatically switch between your devices that are paired to the same iCloud account. So if you're listening to music on your iPhone but switch over to watching a video on your Mac, your AirPods will seamlessly connect to the Mac.

Right now, you can swap quickly, but on most devices it requires accessing the Bluetooth settings for your secondary device if the AirPods are already paired to a primary device.

Automatic device switching requires an iCloud account and it works on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and Apple Watch with the latest software versions installed. Automatic switching works with the AirPods Pro and the second-generation AirPods, and it is not compatible with the original AirPods. It also works with Powerbeats, Powerbeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro.

Battery Notifications

If your AirPods are getting low on battery and need to be charged, your iPhone or iPad will let you know with a notification so you can charge them up before they die completely.


Optimized Charging

To maximize the longevity of the AirPods, Apple added a new Optimized Battery Charging feature in iOS 14. Optimized Battery Charging lets the AirPods learn your daily charging routine and will wait to finish charging past 80 percent until they're needed.

Apple uses a similar battery optimization feature for iPhones and Macs to extend the total battery life of the devices. Avoiding having a lithium ion battery at max charge continually can better preserve battery health over time.


Headphones Accommodations

Headphones Accommodations is an Accessibility feature for those who are hard of hearing, and it's able to amplify soft sounds and adjust frequencies to make music, movies, calls, and more sound more crisp and clear.


You can get to the Headphones Accommodations functionality in the Accessibility section of the Settings app by tapping on AirPods > Audio Accessibility Settings > Headphone Accommodations.

From there, you can get access to all of the different options available such as tuning audio for Balanced Tone, Vocal Range, or Brightness or adjusting the volume of soft sounds to be louder.

There's also a Custom Audio Setup that walks through a test with soft speaking and different music to determine whether you have specific audio preferences that should be compensated for with the Headphone Accommodations feature.


Headphone Accommodations works with the Transparency mode on AirPods Pro too, making quiet voices louder and tuning the sounds of the environment around you to meet your audio needs.

Hearing Health

Apple expanded Hearing Health protections in iOS 14 and watchOS 7 and the iPhone now sends notifications to the Apple Watch when you're listening to music too loud and can reduce your headphones volume to a safe level once you've hit the World Health Organization's recommended safe weekly listening dose.


Reduce Loud Sounds, a new feature under Sounds & Haptics, can be enabled to analyze headphone audio and reduce any sound that is over a certain decibel level, which you can set yourself. These features work with the AirPods and AirPods Pro, along with other headphone options.

Control Center Volume Monitor

If you have the "Hearing" feature added to Control Center when you listen to music with the AirPods or other headphones, you can see a live meter of the volume level to make sure the decibel level is safe.


Just swipe down from Control Center and tap on the ear icon (after it's been added to Control Center) to see the live reading.

AirPods Pro Motion API

Apple designed a Motion API for the AirPods Pro that developers can take advantage of. The Motion API lets developers access orientation, user acceleration, and rotational rates, which is useful for fitness apps and games.

Developers can build the API into apps that AirPods Pro owners will be able to download.

Guide Feedback

Have questions about the new iOS 14 AirPods capabilities, know of a feature we left out, or or want to offer feedback on this guide? Send us an email here.

Article Link: iOS 14's New AirPods Features: Spatial Audio, Better Automatic Device Switching, Battery Notifications and More
 
Last edited:

Seoras

macrumors 6502
Oct 25, 2007
453
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Scotsman in New Zealand
Spatial audio has been around for a couple of decades now. I have a set of Sony MDR-IF800's headphones that work with Sony's DP-IF8000 surround sound processor. Bought them 2nd hand on EBay at the turn of the millennium.
Frankly I'm surprised it's taken this long to get them working on something smaller.

EDIT: Yes, they also track head movement. You can turn this on/off using a switch on the headphones. Not that you ever use it because 99.99% of the time you will be facing a screen, watching a video.
The manual for them has 2001 as the date of publication.
 
Last edited:

pacalis

macrumors 6502a
Oct 5, 2011
622
250
I'd like to see easy equalizer switching in the control centre... Or am I missing something.
 

QCassidy352

macrumors G4
Mar 20, 2003
11,018
3,646
Bay Area
I’m sorry to see that the automatic switching only works for devices on the same iCloud account, as opposed to all devices to which the AirPods are paired. I have a work iPhone on which I cannot sign in to iCloud but can pair Bluetooth headphones, and it would be great to have the AirPods switch between this phone and my personal phone (for music) seamlessly.
 
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Superman730

macrumors member
Jun 25, 2012
65
28
I'm weary of the automatic switching. I think its a feature I like a lot, however, I need to somehow have some control over it. If I'm watching something on my iPad and my phone rings, I have the option of answering on my airpods or not at all, I don't want it to switch automatically before I choose what I want. In addition, I don't want it to auto-switch to one of the devices due to some auto-playing ad or Facebook video.
And since the feature won't be available until the fall, no one can even test it yet to detail how it works
 

topdrawer

macrumors regular
Oct 1, 2012
228
202
Spatial audio has been around for a couple of decades now. I have a set of SonyMDR-IF800's headphones that work with Sony's DP-IF8000 surround sound processor. Bought them 2nd hand on EBay at the turn of the millennium.
Frankly I'm surprised it's taken this long to get them working on something smaller.

do they also readjust as you turn your head?
 

dahosek

macrumors newbie
Aug 28, 2015
8
13
Here's the accessibility feature I want: When I'm listening with headphones, I want the balance shifted to the right. But if I'm using some other bluetooth audio, whether it's my Mfi hearing aids or the car BT or a BlueTooth speaker, I want the balance centered. Right now, I have to manually adjust when I switch or accept the fact that I won't hear things on the right very well if I'm using headphones.

(And for the curious, I use headphones for those situations where I'm somewhere that I don't want to bother people with the sound of my music leaking out of my hearing aids, like if I'm working in the office or in the library. At the moment, this is largely a hypothetical need, but I can see it becoming more operational soon.
 

Jeremy81

macrumors 6502
Dec 17, 2007
353
21
Oklahoma
On the audio accommodations Transparency Mode amplification definitely doesn’t work for me yet. I’ve seen this reported around the internet but so far it doesn’t do anything. I was kind of excited to try it as I have some hearing loss and I’m not quite to the point where I absolutely have to have a hearing aid.
 

Shirasaki

macrumors G4
May 16, 2015
10,010
3,890
Automatic Device Switching
Is automatic switching working? I’m not seeing it in iOS 14 dev beta 3.
I don't think it is. I have read on the forums that it won't be enabled until Fall.
I doubt this feature will only work with devices that has that U1 chip, you know, the one that enables surrounding awareness. I would like this auto switch works on my A12 iPhone and iPad but given apple’s tracking record I don’t hold my breath here.
 
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szw-mapple fan

macrumors 68000
Jul 28, 2012
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I doubt this feature will only work with devices that has that U1 chip, you know, the one that enables surrounding awareness. I would like this auto switch works on my A12 iPhone and iPad but given apple’s tracking record I don’t hold my breath here.
I think this feature will most probably work on all iOS 14 devices. Phone calls actually already kind of have this feature, although I’m not sure how it decides this. I sometimes have mine switch over to iPhone when I answer a call.
 

MedRed

macrumors regular
Jun 9, 2007
116
306
Can Apple make my PowerBeats Pro not stop the music when a timer goes off and only lower the volume of the music? My old headphones worked that way. It's annoying having to rush to end the timer every time it goes off so that it doesn't auto mute my audio.
 

bluespark

macrumors 68000
Jul 11, 2009
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Is there a way to disable automatic device switching for AirPods? I use them for work calls, but often have to open a computer and sometimes activate a media file during a call. I want them never to switch automatically.
 
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mnsportsgeek

macrumors 68020
Feb 24, 2009
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Is there a way to disable automatic device switching for AirPods? I use them for work calls, but often have to open a computer and sometimes activate a media file during a call. I want them never to switch automatically.
I would imagine it will prioritize certain audio like phone calls over music or video. It also better not start the audio on a device before the headphones switch over. I don't want audio randomly coming out of my iPhone or laptop in a public place for 2 seconds while my AirPods switch devices.

And lastly, I don't want my AirPods switching to my Apple TV if someone in my house is using it while I'm using my AirPods elsewhere.

If it doesn't do all 3 of those, it's a useless feature to me.
 
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