In a TechCrunch interview, Apple’s vice president of technology Kevin Lynch said there was "potential" for the AirPods to explore sensor fusion: the process of combining sensor data from multiple devices, like the iPhone 12 and Apple Watch, to provide more accurate fitness tracking and health data.
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When asked if AirPods could be included in this system as well, Lynch said: “We already do sensor fusion across some devices today, and I think there’s all kinds of potential here.”
While onboard health monitoring could be part of the AirPods 3, it’s even more likely that sensor fusion could be an integral part of the AirPods Pro 2. Unlike the standard, current-gen Apple AirPods, the AirPods Pro earbuds are already equipped with motion-sensing accelerometers and gyroscopes — as is the AirPods Max. Bloomberg has also reported that the AirPods Pro 2 will feature improved sensors and a renewed focus on fitness tracking.
Sensor fusion support for the AirPods Pro 2, or indeed any AirPods, would neatly tie in with the new health features in iOS 15. These include the ability to monitor walking steadiness, with your recorded walking data supposedly able to help your doctor determine if you’re at risk of falling.
With the Beats Studio Buds offering active noise cancellation for less than the cheapest AirPods model, Apple may also be looking for new ways to give its ‘Pro’ earbuds an edge. Fitness tracking tools might be one way to tempt consumers to the more premium AirPods, instead of relying on purely audio-focused features like active noise-cancellation.
Still, the AirPods Pro 2 isn’t expected to launch until 2022, so Apple could still simply be exploring the concept. The AirPods 3 looks a lot more imminent, even if it’s set to be a less advanced set of buds.