Toggle Dark Mode
When you think of augmented reality devices, goggles or smart glasses probably come to mind. And while a pair of Apple AR glasses are on the way, the company has actually already released another AR device.
That’s because augmented reality (AR) technically doesn’t just refer to vision, but audio as well. And that’s exactly where Apple’s recently launched AirPods Pro come in.
Apple’s First Dedicated AR device
When it comes to using technology and processing power to augment certain aspects of reality, AirPods Pro really shows how good Apple is getting at it.
That’s because of the new Active Noise Cancelation (ANC) feature that AirPods Pro uses. It’s a combination of hardware and audio processing magic that makes noise cancelation and Transparency mode possible.
AirPods Pro, by design, actually isolate your listening experience thanks to their silicone ear tips. To actually pump in noise from the surrounding area, they use two small microphones to analyze the sound in the environment and either cancel it out or add it back in via Transparency mode.
This is, ultimately, how noise cancelation works — analyzing unwanted sound in the ambient environment and generating a certain type of waveform to cancel it out.
Then, as mentioned earlier, there’s Transparency mode, which is arguably more interesting. It works by taking that outside noise and artificially layering it on top of whatever you’re actually listening to through AirPods Pro.
When you break it down like that, the ANC feature in AirPods Pro starts to sound a lot more like augmented reality.
Why AirPods Pro Are So Significant
Read just about any review of AirPods Pro and you’ll see that the new ANC is a critical and consumer hit. It works extremely well — both for canceling out noise and for adding it back in.
Just think about how much processing power AirPods Pro must use to make ANC and Transparency mode a reality. All of the power is packed into a tiny form factor.
When you consider that one of AR’s biggest potential opportunities is wearable technology, packing processing power into a small footprint is only going to become more important.
The AirPods Pro proves that Apple is making steady progress in augmenting reality, at least when it comes to audio. For visual AR, we have ARKit and Apple’s other endeavors in that area to look too.
In a way, ARKit, AirPods Pro and Apple’s other related initiatives are starting to paint a roadmap of where the company can go from here.
Where’s Apple Going?
If we’re talking entirely about audio processing, then there are plenty of areas in which a future version of AirPods Pro can improve.
For one, if you use Transparency mode on the new earbuds, you’ll notice that AirPods Pro are actually doing very little to process the sound that it’s piping back into your ears.
Apple could change that in a future version, adding in additional audio processing technology to filter out certain types of sounds and noises in Transparency mode. It could, for example, make human voices louder and clearer but tone down loud and distracting sounds.
And the possibilities get more exciting when you consider where Apple is headed in the AR department. The company is largely known to be working on some type of head-worn augmented reality system, or a so-called “Apple Glass” device.
Such a system may take quite a few years to become an actual replacement for a smartphone, but it looks increasingly like that is where Apple is headed.
But the so-called Apple Glass device will likely need to rely on other external devices to provide an all-around AR experience. Apple Glass in conjunction with Apple Watch (or Apple ring) for health monitoring and AirPods Pro for audio.
And it’s likely that Apple will take lessons from AirPods Pro and apply them to that device. For example, there could be a “Transparency mode” for the AR glasses that doesn’t overlay as much information onto the actual environment.
Of course, at this point, this is all heady speculation. But based on products like ARKit and AirPods Pro, as well as Apple’s numerous patents, it seems like Apple is moving toward a wearable and AR-enhanced future for its consumer products.