AirPods Max – the first over-ear headphones designed by Apple – won critical acclaim in December 2020. As such, rumors that the California-based company is working on a second iteration of the popular noise-canceling headphones should come as no surprise. According to a new patent application filed by Apple, the second-generation AirPods Max will ditch the Digital Crown (the small dial used to adjust volume and skip tracks) in favor of touchpad swipes and gestures on the earbuds themselves. .
Spotted by the Eagle-Eyed Team at Apple obviously, the American technology company has patented a tactile layer on the outside of the aluminum headset, which can be swiped and tapped to adjust volume levels, skip tracks, pause playback, and more. On the current generation of AirPods Max, press and hold the digital crown summoning voice assistant Siri, so a gesture may be added to launch the talkative AI assistant.
However, it’s already possible for AirPods Max owners to set up hands-free Siri, which invokes the assistant with the wake phrase “Hey, Siri.” It’s possible that future versions will eschew a physical button command in favor of this voice-activated method.
Provided Apple follows the plan apparently outlined in this patent, it won’t release anything we haven’t seen before. A number of high-end headphones already include gesture controls on the ear cups. For example, the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones allow users to cover the right ear cup to reduce audio volume and allow ambient sound to come in, so you can quickly listen to a tannoy announcement at a train station.
The Bose 700 series headphones have a touch zone on the right ear cup, which can be used to control playback. There’s even a feature that will instantly load your last Spotify session when you press and hold on the earbud.
Whispers inside Apple suggest the company considered adding a touchpad to its first-generation AirPods Max. This would explain why the industrial design includes such an extensive (and relatively flat) surface on each earcup. Despite testing the technology on a number of prototypes, Apple eventually deduced the inclusion of touchpad controls.
It’s unclear what caused the decision, however, going by the latest patent, the debate within the company may not be over.
The current AirPods Max sits on the Digital Crown, a small dial that’s part of the Apple Watch design. On the smartwatch range, this little command is used to scroll through lists, adjust volume, summon Siri and switch between most recently used apps. Many of these features are replicated identically on the AirPods Max.
Unfortunately, the patent discovered by Patently Apple does not reveal more information about what to expect from the promising headphones. So there’s no confirmation whether Apple will introduce a hard travel case to protect its refreshed AirPods Max (instead of the widely derided pouch that forces owners to use the mesh headband as a handle to carry their headphones) or a physical Off button (as it supports, owners must insert their headphones into the case to turn them off).
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However, the most anticipated new feature is support for Hi-Res Audio. Late last year, Apple finished upgrading its entire Apple Music catalog to CD-quality sound (at no additional cost to subscribers). The only problem? Apple does not currently sell a pair of AirPods capable of wirelessly streaming this amplified audio. Some tipsters have suggested that Apple could switch from Bluetooth to a local Wi-Fi network between the iPhone or iPad and the AirPods to stream the upgraded songs in a lossless format.
As always, it’s worth taking all of the above with a good pinch of salt. After all, nothing is confirmed until Apple CEO Tim Cook makes an announcement on stage. Companies like Apple file patents all the time – and only a small fraction leave the research and research department inside the corporate headquarters and make it into a finalized product on store shelves.
In the meantime, current-gen AirPods Max are available with an impressive £100 discount at Amazon UK.