The active noise cancellation in the headphones is really useful in many situations. A cancellation that, on the other hand, can isolate us too much from the world around us in situations where what we would like is to hear what is happening. Apple is aware of this situation, as a recent patent shows.
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In the patent titled “Interruption for Noise Canceling Audio Devices”, Apple explores the ability to momentarily suspend noise cancellation when the headset detects a sound or keyword.
“Audio devices such as headphones may include noise cancellation features in which sounds generated outside of the audio device are detected and canceled by the audio device. In this way, a user of the audio device can benefit from a reduced sound environment and/or an improved listening environment for the audio content generated by the audio device”. “The noise cancellation features of audio devices prevent the user from hearing unwanted external noise, but can also prevent the user from hearing external sounds that they want to hear.” “For example, the user may wish to be interrupted by one or more pre-designated contacts that are identified on an associated electronic device as authorized interrupt contacts or by someone using a code word designated to the user.”
So we could be faced with AirPods Pro or AirPods Max that momentarily deactivate noise cancellation when they detect our name. According to Apple, the AirPods would process the information received to avoid false positives. In this processing, information would be used such as the difference in sound reception time between the two headphones, which, depending on the computing power of the iPhone, would determine the proximity and relative position of the external audio source.
The list of keywords that the headphones would detect would cover more than just our own name. According to the patent, we could designate our own list of expressions. At this point we think of the sound alert that Apple implemented in iOS 15. With this feature, which we can activate through the accessibility settings, our iPhone notifies us of doorbells, crying babies, sirens and other sounds of similar characteristics.
Something similar could reach headphones. So no matter how much noise cancellation is active in our headphones, we could hear the beep of a car driving down the street, for example. A change that could simplify the use of noise cancellation in certain environments, where we must pay some attention to the environment around us without having the Transparency mode permanently activated.
As we always say, patents can take a long time to materialize on a device, if at all. What we see is the company’s interest in giving even more intelligence to its headphones.