Apple files patent for AirPods with ultrasonic buttons that work underwater

Apple has just filed a new patent relating to the ultrasonic touch technology that will be used on its headphones. This technology could make it easier to use Apple headphones and headsets underwater. However, the new touch sensor is unlikely to be ready for the upcoming AirPods Pro 2.

  • Capacitive keys on AirPods and AirPods Max could be replaced by ultrasonic touch technology
  • Advantages of the ultrasonic sensor include ease of use when the device is wet

Getting rid of capacitive keys on next-gen AirPods might be Apple’s next priority. According to the latest filing spotted by Patently Applethe company could already be working on more advanced ultrasonic technology that will allow greater ease of use for its devices.

Why is ultrasonic touch sensor better than capacitive sensor?

Although capacitive sensors have proven to be an effective solution over mechanical buttons, they are still far from perfect. Most capacitive controls are rendered ineffective and inaccurate when the user is wearing gloves or their fingers are wet. It seems that Apple wants to solve this problem by relying on ultrasonic waves rather than the electric fields used in capacitive sensors.

Apple’s ultrasonic touch sensor patent shows it can eliminate stray waves / © Patently Apple

Currently, ultrasonic sensors have the disadvantage of letting “parasitic” waves pass. In the diagram above, we understand that Apple has already found a solution to this problem since waves guided in the radial direction are able to detect fingers without interference. The use of a force sensing module could also help reduce accidental entries, as can be seen in Fig. 2.

In addition, the AirPods are not the only ones to be able to take advantage of ultrasonic sensors. It is possible that the Curpertino giant will apply the aforementioned technology for its future wearables, as an alternative to the current Assistive Touch function of Apple smartwatches.

Which type of controls do you prefer: mechanical, capacitive or ultrasonic buttons?

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