Spatial audio is one of the top features among the best AirPods that support it, and it looks like Apple could make it even better by adding posture detection sensors to automate when it's turned on and off as the company has filed a patent for a way to do just that.
First spotted by Patently Apple on the US Patent and Trademark Office's website, the new patent shows research and designs for a feature that would allow spatial audio to be enabled when a person is sitting down and listening to music or watching a movie. If the motion sensors then detect that you have moved (either by standing up or walking away) or stopped listening, then the system can take actions, such automatically disabling head-tracking for the spatial audio, so the sounds don't move awkwardly around you as you walk.
This automation sounds similar to the Adaptive Audio and Conversation Awareness features that are coming to to the AirPods Pro 2 with iOS 17, in that they're reactive to what's happening. These use machine learning to automatically switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency modes depending on what's happening around you, based on what the mics are picking up.
The push to automate more audio features is a big part of advancements in the best headphones these days, and we're all for these developments as they make listening to music on the go much simpler. This feature would likely be limited to the AirPods Pro (both generations), AirPods Max and the Apple AirPods 3, since those are the AirPods that actually support spatial audio.
I might actually use spatial audio if it was automated
Apple made waves when it first released head-tracked spatial audio with Dolby Atmos in June 2021 and for good reason. It ushered in a completely new generation of surround sound that makes watching movies especially a much more immersive experience, but can absolutely do the same for music as well.
Apple later expanded on it by introducing Personalized Spatial Audio, which added head tracking to further enhance the surround sound. Despite some rave reports about it, we didn't see what the fuss was about when we tried it.
Regardless, it's one of the best features on AirPods and one that I personally enjoy using while on the way to work or commuting in the city in general. But there is one part of it that instantly snaps you out of the dreamworld you're in: the fact that you have to turn it off manually.
I've lost count of the amount of times I've forgotten that head-tracking was on while walking, finding that every time I turn to look at traffic or change direction, I'm getting a weird sound mix, and I'll need to fumble to find my phone and switch it off. And while you can do this via the Control Center on your iPhone by holding your finger on the volume bar, I've taken to leaving spatial audio turned off to avoid getting caught listening to a track where the vocals go all over the place.
If Apple's latest patent does end up becoming a reality, I'd be glad to leave spatial audio on more often, so that the head tracking will automatically turn off during inopportune times.
Don't forget that Apple might introduce new AirPods at the iPhone 15 launch event today, September 12th 2023. Though we're not expecting the new AirPods Pro with USB-C to be very different from what's available now – real AirPods Pro 3 are still a long way away. You can follow our Apple event 2023 live updates during the event.