Apple could be working on the coolest AirPods feature ever

AirPods Pro 2 in charging case
(Image credit: Future)

A future pair of Apple AirPods could feature a touchscreen case that provides a convenient interface for you control the wireless earbuds. At least, that's what a recent patent earned by Apple suggests.

As spotted by Patently Apple (via 9to5Mac,) Apple filed for and earned a patent for a case sporting a square-shaped touchscreen with a simple OS for controlling music and using apps. In some ways, it seems like a callback to the iPod, creating a control pad that is accessible without needing your iPhone or relying on gestures directly on the pods.

AirPods touchscreen case patent

(Image credit: USPTO via Patently Apple)

Based on the diagrams in the patent, 9to5Mac reimagined up an AirPods case with an Apple Watch display placed on top. It demoes the music control interface, which I use regularly on my wrist to control playback for both my AirPods — whether it's my AirPods Pro 2 or AirPods Max — and smart speakers.

But for those who don't use an Apple Watch, an interactive case would be a major upgrade in terms of ease-of-use. While it's true some of the AirPods current gesture controls are intuitive (such as pausing music when you take an earbud out) I've found others can be fickle (such as swiping up and down on an AirPod stem to change the volume.)

Apple isn't first to touchscreen cases

Though the patent was published on March 30, Apple filed the application in September 2022. That's the same month the company announced the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), so it seems they wasted no time getting to work on potential upgrades for upcoming models.

Yet in the meantime, an interesting competitor brought the concept in Apple's patent to life. The HP Poly Voyager Free 60+ wireless earbuds, announced during CES 2023, impressed me when I had the chance to check them out.

HP Poly Voyager Free 60+

The HP Poly Voyager Free 60+ wireless earbuds feature a touchscreen display on the charging case. (Image credit: Future)

The case provided playback controls, as well as battery status and connectivity options. The idea is that you'd wear the earbuds while working at a desk, and leave the case somewhere in reach at your desk space. Instead of reaching for your phone every time you need to control playback, you can tap the case directly. 

At the time, I definitely saw the touchscreen as an advantage over AirPods and the other best wireless earbuds. But now that a patent has teased Apple will come out with a version of the feature for AirPods, I wouldn't be surprised if we see more brands working on touchscreen earbuds cases. 

That's to say, Apple might not be first to touchscreen charging cases, but they have the influence to make such a feature mainstream. My biggest question are what a display on the case would mean for battery life and durability, though. 

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Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.