The headphones are positioned as a useful tool for conference calls. That’s because you’d be able to hear where a person is in the room, even if they’re not physically there. In the patent’s abstract, Apple describes a “pre-processor” that’s able to receive each caller’s audio signal, associate it with corresponding metadata, and then spit out a virtual, spatial representation of where that signal would be coming from based on that metadata. It certainly makes sense in an enterprise situation, but it could also easily be applied to regular calls and entertainment.
The patent also describes a “head-tracking controller” that could analyse which way a listener is looking. The headset would then be able to make use of multi-channel audio to deliver audio playback based on where the user was looking, as well as where other participants in the call are. Basically, the headset would be able to mimic in-person meetings—if you ‘look’ at someone, the headset’s audio would automatically adjust. If the call participants are remotely based, the patent also describes creating a ‘virtual room’ in which “acoustic properties resemble those of the real environment in which the listener is situated.”
This tech would go a long way in helping remote workers identify who’s speaking, rather than trying to guess based on voice alone. It’s also easy to imagine the AR headphones working in tandem with a pair of AR glasses. You could theoretically join a virtual conference call, and then actually “see” where participants would be sitting in your environment. Perhaps something like those Jedi Council meetings in the prequel Star Wars trilogy—albeit, jankier since you’d be using AR headphones and glasses, not holograms. Facebook showed off a similar concept a few years ago with a ‘social VR demo’ using the Oculus Rift, though it was pretty rough around the edges.
Again, as with all patents, none of this might see the light of day. Even if we do, it’s going to be a bit of wait. Recent reports indicate that Apple’s rumoured AR headset won’t launch until at least 2022, with AR glasses coming in 2023 at the earliest.