Apple is working on a new technology that could see augmented reality (AR) come to the MacBook Pro and other laptops, according to a new patent granted to the company this week. And, like the company’s first dedicated AR device, the goal seems to be improving the audio experience on Apple’s laptop lineup in clever ways.
AR Audio Patent
When you think of AR, you probably imagine an iPhone display or a head-mounted device. But Apple has also used (and will continue to use) AR techniques for audio.
Take a patent for AR headphones, which was published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office last month. The patent covers a technology that could enable users to “hear” exactly where someone would be in a room — even if they aren’t physically present.
Today’s patent, first spotted by Patently Apple, pretty much applies the same technique to MacBook Pro speakers, allowing the audio system to give off the illusion that sound is coming from somewhere other than the actual speakers.
The system works by canceling crosstalk in a method similar to audio cancelation. (Crosstalk, if you aren’t familiar, is essentially overlapping sound waves from the left and right channels of a piece of audio.) To simplify it, Apple is essentially envisioning canceling one audio channel to make it sound like noise is emanating from the other side.
That’s not all, however. Apple’s patent also imagines using HomePod-like technology to adjust speaker output based on the acoustic signatures of a room.
By using a suite of microphones to pick up reflected sound, the audio system could adjust both its reflected and direct output to make users think that a sound is coming from elsewhere in an environment.
Apple’s AR Audio Ambitions
The possibilities of AR audio on a MacBook Pro (or headphones) are pretty apparent. Audio positioning could be handy for conference calls or virtual meetings, and it isn’t hard to imagine the system being used for more immersive entertainment and gaming experiences either.
And like Apple’s AirPods Pro, the patent hints that Apple is looking beyond ARKit, the iPhone and other visual-based systems for its AR ambitions.
On that note, this may also be related to rumors of a premium over-ear headphone that was once slated for release last year.
In 2018, Apple filed a patent that could allow a pair of over-ear headphones to detect which ear they’re on and adjust the audio accordingly. That does sound suspiciously like the aforementioned headphone patent.
Apple could also bring visual AR to the MacBook Pro lineup, which could be handy for professionals and creatives. But that would ostensibly require a rear-facing camera, unless some sort of Continuity feature could allow an iPhone to be used instead.