AirPods could someday replace your Apple Watch — here’s how

AirPods Pro
(Image credit: Future)

Apple’s AirPods could one day replace the Apple Watch as the fitness tracking wearable of choice for iPhone users. 

That’s thanks to an Apple patent uncovered by Patently Apple that details how a pair of AirPods-like wireless earbuds could be used to deliver exercise guidance and track activity and fitness data. 

The “wireless ear bud system with pose detection” patent describes how a pair of what could be future AirPods “may have sensors to gather orientation information such as accelerometer measurements during user movements.” Used in conjunction with an iPhone, the data could then be analysed and a fuel a coaching system that would provide the wearer with audio feedback and performance monitoring.  

Apple ear buds patent

(Image credit: USPTO)

And it also details how the earbuds could house other sensors and control circuitry to monitor a person’s movement based on the orientation of their head. And from those movements, the system will infer the type of activity a person is doing and the poise they should have for it. 

“Audible feedback may be provided to a user based on evaluation of user performance of the head movement routine.” the patent summarized. “Other suitable actions may be taken such as issuing performance reports and alerts. If desired, additional sensors may be used in gathering orientation data during user movement routines and additional evaluation, guidance, and feedback operations may be performed.” 

Effectively, Apple’s patent proposes a way to add in fitness and exercise features to a future pair of AirPods. We’ve already heard rumors that the AirPods 3 could come with an ambient light sensor to detect a person heart rate and infer specific health conditions from them. So it wouldn’t be too big a leap in imagination to see next-generation AirPods come with some form of fitness tracking and coaching feature.

Given Apple expects people to use Siri with the AirPods, we don’t think it would have too much trouble then having its in-ear headphones to feedback coaching advice. And when a paired iPhone is brought into the mix, a lot of the information collected by the earbuds could then be piped to the Apple smartphone and used to serve up richer fitness information combined with health data.

As the Apple Watch 5 still needs to be paired with an iPhone to get the most out of it, pairing sensor-equipped AirPods with an iPhone could be an alternative way to track fitness data and pursue health goals without the need for a smartwatch.

This patent could lead to nowhere, as a lot of Apple patents do. But it does give us a glimpse at where the AirPods might go next to stand out from rivals such as the Pixel Buds 2 and upcoming Galaxy Buds Live.  

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.