The new Apple AirPods case could be an iPod Nano in disguise, suggests patent

Parker Hall
Digital Trends
apple airpods siri
apple airpods siri

Josh Edelson/Getty Images

Siri is already in your home, in your pocket, and on your wrist, so why not in your ears as well? Apple’s AirPods wireless headphones already let you summon the voice assistant by physically tapping them, but the next iteration of the in-ear device will allow you to simply say, “Hey Siri,” as you would with your phone, Bloomberg reports. Not only that, but a recent patent suggests that the AirPods case could become a portable media player — basically an iPod Nano in disguise.

This improved functionality is currently being worked on for the next generation of the AirPods, which are internally known as B288. Voice activation won’t be the only new part of the upcoming AirPods either, as they will include an updated, Apple-designed chip for handling Bluetooth connections. The original AirPods included the W1 chip, while the most recent Apple Watch used the W2. It’s not clear if these new AirPods will use a brand-new chip, or an updated W2.

The next batch of AirPods could arrive as early as later this year, but Apple is already working on yet another new model after that, as the company plans to release updated AirPods regularly, much as it does with iPhones and many of its other products. This future model will be water-resistant, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to listen to music while swimming. The idea is for the headphones to survive splashes of water, such as when you’re wearing them in the rain. This model could arrive in 2019, but as is always the case, the company’s plans could be delayed or change entirely.

Portable playback

A future generation of the Airpods could feature a case that acts as a stand-alone playback device. According to a new patent filed by Apple, the company has devised a case that has built-in storage and playback controls, plus the ability to play audio through its charging port.

This isn’t the first time a company has added audio storage and playback capabilities to a charging case for fully wireless earbuds — we’ve already seen similar tech from Bragi — but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a big addition to Apple’s headphones. If paired up with Apple Music and a set of the company’s rumored sweatproof wireless earbuds, the addition of offline storage could mean that users won’t have to bring a bulky smartphone with them to their workouts. There’s already a portable player called the Mighty that allows users to listen to competing streaming service Spotify offline, but if Apple builds theirs into the actual charging case of a pair of fully wireless headphones, it could make for a very nifty stand-alone workout accessory.

Wireless charging

Another patent filed by Apple has added some legitimacy to earlier rumors that the company would be releasing some form of a wireless-charging AirPod case, alongside a potential wireless-charging mat, sometime in March. Illustrations in the patent show what appear to be a case that looks remarkably similar to the AirPod case we’re already familiar with, but with the inclusion of wireless power receivers designed to interface with a charging pad. The literature and further illustrations detail the technology within the case and the wireless-charging methodology.

It’s possible this is simply a new case for existing AirPods, but it bolsters the case that a new version of the fully wireless earbuds is imminent.

A new look?

Speaking of patents, a pair of other patent filings suggest that we could see a refreshed design for its wireless buds — if not in the next generation, then in the water-resistant future model. The images associated with the first filing show an in-ear headphone that more closely resembles competitors like Jabra’s Elite 65t and Bragi’s The Headphone. It ditches the long, cylindrical sections that hang out of listeners’ ears on the current-generation AirPods. The patent images also show three different potential designs for sports fins to keep the headphones secure.

The second patent details the internal circuitry and communication technology for potential iterations of the AirPod, and both patents also mention the addition of other sensors, such as biometrics, accelerometers, and a pulse oximeter, which suggests that a future AirPod iteration could be explicitly designed for sports, much like Jabra’s Elite Sport.

Continued domination

Whether or not these updated models arrive as planned, it’s a given that we will see some of them at some point, considering they are selling like hotcakes. Earlier, Apple’s chief financial officer, Luca Maestri, said that wearables were the second-largest contributor to the company’s revenue, after the iPhone, and that sales in that category had jumped by 70 percent.

The idea of updated AirPods isn’t bad for consumers either. While we called them the best fully wireless earbuds available at the time of our review, we did still have some issues with them. If Apple finds a way to help them stay in your ears a little better and bumps up the sound quality, while increasing the already fantastic battery life and wireless reliability, a great product could get even better.

Updated on March 29: Added information on Apple’s patent filing for a case that has built-in storage and playback controls.

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