AirPods 3 could use bone conduction technology a means to transmit audio in coordination with traditional air-based sound transmission.
The USTPO awarded Apple with a patent for "Multipath audio stimulation using audio compressors" (via AppleInsider) on Tuesday, suggesting a system that incorporates bone conduction transmissions to the standard air-based transmission all of the best wireless earbuds employ.
Though the awarded patent does not confirm Apple has immediate plans to incorporate this technology into its next generation of AirPods or AirPods Pro, it does suggest a hearable device with multiple routes of audio transmission is being tested.
This means in certain scenarios, AirPods could one day send signals through the bones in your skull to be received by your eardrums, even when the pods aren't inside your ear.
This would let you enjoy your music without blocking ambient sound, or perhaps let you listen to music underwater, where air-based transmission is useless.
That said, bone conduction as a primary audio transmission source has not taken off, mostly due to the fact that it doesn't sound very good. When we tested the Lucyd Loud smart frames a few years back, for example, we could barely hear our music and struggled to consider them a viable vehicle for tunes.
We don't know many details about AirPods 3 — at least, compared to upcoming devices like the iPhone 12 and Apple Watch 6 — but we hope the buds will borrow signature features from the AirPods Pro like adaptive sound, customized fit, and active noise cancellation.
Although it'd be well-timed for Apple to debut AirPods 3 alongside the Watch 6 and iPhone 12 (which won't come with EarPods) in September, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts the AirPods 3 are coming in the first half of 2021. Kuo also believes the buds will land around the sub-$200 price point and replace AirPods 2 on store shelves.
AirPods with bone conduction could help Apple's earbuds fend off the upcoming Galaxy Buds Live, which look to offer active noise cancellation and a unique bean-shaped design for a potentially much lower price than the AirPods Pro.