In the future, Apple might give you a way to switch seamlessly between playing music directly into your ears and blasting it out loud for the rest of the world — and not just because your headphone’s volume is jacked up way too high.
The company was recently granted a patent for a convertible headphone design that looks to transform normal headsets into stereo speakers, which the document calls “dual mode” headphones.
According to the design outlined in the patent, listeners would be able to switch between headphone mode and speaker mode either at the touch of a button or by using sensors to detect the positioning of the device. The sensors would also protect the user’s ears by preventing the engagement of speaker mode, and a possible built-in amplifier and power source, when the headphone mode is in use. Speaker mode would be engaged when the device is positioned a certain way, as seen in the figure below.
As AppleInsider points out, the outlined sensor system isn’t too outlandish, since Apple already has similar systems in place in existing products. The iPhone 7’s stereo speaker set-up automatically switches to stereo sound while playing music when the device is away from the user’s face in landscape mode, and the AirPods already use a system of sensors to detect how they’re being used.
The patent imagines the system being applied to all types of headphones, as over-ear, on-ear and in-ear designs are all represented in the filing. It’s not hard to imagine this type of design working out with some of the bulkier Apple-owned headphone models currently on the market, like the Beats Pro. But pumping music out of a tiny set of earbuds might be a bit of a stretch when the stereo speakers included in smartphones are plenty loud to begin with.
Apple’s design isn’t the first of its kind — Flips, a late-night infomercial product that surfaced a few years ago, was built around the same basic concept. The design didn’t catch on, however, and the company’s website is currently offline (but you can still order some of the convertibles on Amazon).
That said, a potential Apple take on the hybrid tech would probably be much more likely to catch on. As the wildly successful AirPods show, consumers are happy to pony up for Apple-designed headphones.