Apple has big changes in store for the next iPhone, with plans to launch a new high-end pair of wireless earbuds made by its Beats Electronics subsidiary, according to 9to5 Mac.
The new earbuds will be sold separately from the iPhone, and will dovetail with Apple’s reported plans to eliminate the 3.5 mm headphone jack in the next iPhone.
But the Beats earbuds will not only be free of the wire connecting the earbuds to the phone — they will also be free of the wires connecting the right earbud to the left earbud. This kind of wireless earbud system is still in its early stages, with smaller companies like Skybuds and Bragi pioneering the technology (and the Doppler Labs Here system, pictured above, providing a different twist, by letting you adjust live sound).
But going completely wireless brings up several significant challenges that Apple will have to resolve. Here are four of the big ones:
- Only one Bluetooth audio device can be connected to a phone at a time. That’s a problem because each earbud is a separate device, so the audio signal can’t be sent to both Bluetooth earbuds simultaneously. The sound must therefore be sent from the phone to one earbud, and then from one earbud to the next. Perhaps Apple’s next iPhone will be able to support more than one Bluetooth audio device simultaneously, though that could pose its own challenges.
- The Blutetooth radio signal does not travel through the human body. That means that the signal must bounce of nearby walls to travel from one earbud to the other, which obviously poses a problem in open spaces. Skybuds uses “Near Field Magnetic Induction,” a technology used only in hearing aids, to push the signal to both headphones. The technology has until now primarily been used in hearing aids. But transmitting music with high fidelity is more complex than voices, requiring innovative tech tweaks.
- No wires means earbuds will easily get lost or misplaced. Earbuds are small objects, which are only kept together thanks to their wires. Without the wires, it’s not hard to imagine the ear pieces falling out of pockets, getting stuck between sofa cushions or otherwise disappearing. Even losing just one earbud would be a problem. And given that these earbuds will reportedly carry a premium price tag, Apple will need to design a clever system to help users keep track of their earbuds to avoid consumer backlash.
- Battery life with wireless earbuds will be tricky. If you’re tired of constantly charging your phone’s battery, wait until you have to worry about your earbuds running out of juice too. Apple is apparently working on a special charging case that will come with the wireless Beats earbuds. These will serve the dual purpose of providing a handy way to charge the buds, as well as a storage solution to help users keep track of their earbuds and minimise the risk of losing or misplacing them.