An Apple patent application, which covers a wireless hybrid headphone system, has been published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. The patent describes a way Apple could replace the current 3.5mm headphone jack with its own proprietary Lightning port-based headphones system.
As published, Apple’s patent application for “Audio class-compliant charging accessories for wireless headphones and headsets” details a headphone device and supporting hardware capable of seamlessly switching between wired and wireless listening modes.
Apple’s invention would replace the standard 3.5mm TRRS (tip, ring, ring, sleeve) headphone plug with an electrical connector compatible with both digital and analog signals, which is a good description of the company’s proprietary Lightning protocol. The connector would be designed to provide both power and audio connections.
The headphone in Apple’s patent also includes an internal battery, processor, memory and antenna and wireless transceiver package for communicating with a user device.
Apple’s invention would handle audio signals both over wired and wireless interfaces. The system would send a packet of authentication data for decision logic processing. The data would then be used by the control circuitry to determine that the headphone connected via a wired connection is the same device as the headphones that are connected wirelessly.
In the case of a successful match, audio data being sent to the headphones via a wired or wireless communication module would then be stored in a hardware buffer, and the headphones would use the buffered audio when the user switches from a wired to a wireless connection, (or vice versa), preventing audio dropouts as the system reconnects.
Of course, all of this is merely a patent application, and Apple files a number of these each year, with no guarantee any actual products will include the technology. Although such a system could aid Apple if it indeed is planning on the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack from this year’s new iPhone in favor of a Lightning port, as has been rumored.
Apple’s hybrid headphone switching patent application was first filed for in October 2014 and credits Zachary C. Rich, Baptiste P. Paquier, Joseph A. Sarlo and Jahan C. Minoo as its inventors.