4 February, 2023

Apple AirPods May Switch to Touch Sensors Instead of Force Detection for Control, Patent Application Shows: Report

Apple AirPods may feature more touch-based gestures with the inclusion of capacitive sensors.

Apple AirPods may drop its force detection sensors and opt for touch sensors in the future, according to an online report. In a new patent application, Apple filed for “Portable Listening Device with Sensors,” that is speculated to be a description of AirPods or AirPods Pro. The documents suggest that AirPods may switch to capacitive touch sensors to facilitate easier controls. The new development follows reports of the Cupertino-giant losing its hold on the wireless earbuds market during Q2 2020.

In its report, AppleInsider cited a US patent application filed by Apple. The application carried the title, “Portable Listening Device with Sensors.” The report speculates that this might refer to the company’s AirPods or AirPods Pro. Among other details, it talked about a “a touch-sensitive sensor positioned within the housing and adjacent to the exterior surface.” The sensor is placed on the exterior of the device and is configured to “generate an interaction signal in response to detecting a touch of a user’s finger.”

Currently, all AirPods feature force sensors, that require a fairly strong tap on the earbud or a hard squeeze on the stem for controls such as answering a call or skipping tracks while listening to music. The new patent says that the earbuds can detect user contact “via a change in capacitance.” Capacitive sensors don’t require pressure or movement and can be easily controlled with simple touches.

The report also suggests that the new technology can be leveraged to include more controls with a wider variety of gestures on the AirPods. It says that if the earbuds can detect touch, it may also be able to understand movement. So, a simple swipe on the earbuds could control the volume level. However, Apple hasn’t shared any information on including touch sensors on its AirPods or AirPods Pro.

According to the latest Q2 2020 figures by Counterpoint Research, Apple holds just over a third of the wireless earbuds market at 35 percent. More affordable alternatives from Chinese rivals have eaten into Apple’s share in a fast-growing true wireless stereo (TWS) earphones market, while Samsung is also expected to provide stiff competition to the company in the remaining part of 2020. However, the market tracker still predicted that Apple could boost its TWS earphones sales this year by one-third.