Thursday, September 3, 2015

Apple Patent Application Ups the Ante on Noise-Cancelling Headphones


Apple’s Patent Application on Bone Conduction for Voice Communications

According to US Patent and Trademark Office revealed on Thursday, Apple had applied for patent for technology on bone conduction for voice communications. Apple's patent application which was filed in February 2014, though not published till recently defines a method of improving voice quality in wireless headset using freed earbuds of a mobile device.

As defined by Apple Insider, it terms a system, where the voice input is accepted by one of the two earbuds and depending on the perceived quality, it is then passed on to a mobile device. Inertial sensor which tends to monitor the vibrations in a user’s bone structure as well as the range of other sensors helps in informing which signal to use.

Bone conduction tends to transmit sound via subtle vibrations instead of through speakers generally with an increase in clarity. The patent tends to follow the design model which Apple had attempted in bringing about to most of its devices and accessories – simplicity. It could also propose a natural progression with the company’s 2014 acquisition of headphones maker Beats, while enhancing the earbuds contributions.

Earbuds Accountable for Noise/Wind level

According to research manager of wearable and mobile phones for IDC, Ramon Llamas, has mentioned in an email that `this is something like Apple taking a hint from what the other vendors have done earlier and which has been Apple’s mode of operation in the past – to see who does it well and then attempt to do it better than the others.

We have seen this with smartphones and are now seeing it with watches and if the product reaches market, Apple will be doing the same to the Bluetooth headset industry’. Apple had noted in the patent application that its earbuds would be accountable for noise and wind level identified by internal earbud microphones.

Moreover, the earbuds could combine the information with accelerometer output battery level as well as earbud position data as per the application. Apple has mentioned in its patent application that `the invention usually relates to improving the voice sound quality in a wireless headset with untethered earbuds of electronic devices by determining which of the earbuds should transmit the acoustic signal and the inertial sensor output to the mobile device’.

Environmental Noise – User’s Speech Incomprehensible

Using the acoustic signal as well as the inertial sensor output received from one of the earbuds, user’s voice activity could be detected to perform noise reduction and generate a pitch estimate in improving the speech quality of the final output signal’.

As per the application, a shared complain with hands free devices is that speech caught by the microphone port or the handset comprises of environmental noise like the secondary speakers in the background or it could be other background sounds.

 Environmental noise tends to make the user’ speech incomprehensible and hence tends to degrade the quality of the voice communication, which is a problem that Apple intends to solve. Apple had declined from commenting on the patent application.

The present patent shows on-going work in bone conduction technology as Apple had filed a similar application for accelerometer assisted noise cancellation last September and the company is yet to bring in such a device to the market. Its most innovative earphone designs tend to rely on cables, excluding devices that are developed by Beats.

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