Future Apple Earphones Could Track Your Health [Patent]

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A new Apple patent, published Tuesday, reveals how future Apple earbuds and headphones might incorporate health-monitoring features.

The patent shows how a monitoring system could be cleverly built into Apple earphones, and used to track activity such as speed and distance traveled during exercise. The device would also be able to sense other biometric data relating to metrics body temperature, perspiration rate, and heart rate.

That’s not all it would do, however. Sensors built in to the device — including accelerometers, gyroscopes, and motion sensors — would mean that users could control their iPhones and other iOS devices simply by using head gestures.

The various motions Apple lists as being able to be detected include tilting your head to the left, right, backwards and forwards, as well as moving it in a circular direction. This could then be used to carry out functions such as playing, pausing, adjusting the volume, and skipping through content when the user is carrying out media playback.

The patent describes a way in which the device could distinguish between genuine head commands and “noise” referring to movements you might make without wishing it to apply to your iOS device.

This chart shows

This illustration shows how gesture controls might work in future generation Apple earphones

It has been speculated for a while that Apple is interested in fitness and health tracking for future iterations of its devices. A recent report suggested that Apple is working on a medical sensor device — possibly a feature for its long-reported iWatch — that can listen to the sound blood makes as it flows through arteries, and use this to predict possible heart attacks.

Apple has also made a number of hires relating to the biosensor field. In January this year the company recruited Marcelo Malini Lamego, the former CTO of Cercacor — a Californian medical device company involved with the development of non-invasive patient monitoring technologies, including sensors.

What is interesting about Apple’s new “Sports monitoring system for headphones, earbuds and/or headsets ” patent, however, is what it suggests about the length of time Apple has been interested in this area. The patent application was filed on August 21, 2008 — just one year after the iPhone was first launched.

It names Apple Product Design Manager Chris Prest, and Quin Hoellwarth as its two co-inventors.

About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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