Ron Huang and Eric Treski Discuss AirPods’ Latest Features
The AirPods were only mentioned briefly during Apple’s event keynote. It’s understandable given that the iPhone 15 and Apple Watch Series 9 (and Ultra 2) took center stage. Moreover, the headphones did not receive the same level of hardware improvements. According to a press statement provided after the event, the largest physical change to the AirPods Pro 2 is the (admittedly long-awaited) debut of a USB-C charging case.
You’d be forgiven for believing the AirPods news ended there. However, Apple’s high-end earbuds received a significant software update in the form of new listening modes that can be accessible with a few touches in iOS 17 in both versions of the AirPods Pro 2 (USB-C and Lightning).
The latest models require a swipe down to access Control Center, followed by a lengthy press on the volume slide to adjust the volume. Select from “Noise Cancellation,” “Conversational Awareness,” and “Spatial Audio” from the drop-down menus below. The first two are the ones getting all the attention this year.
In addition to the previously available Noise Cancellation, Transparency, and off settings, we have also included Adaptive Audio. When you select the novel menu item, a rainbow will appear behind it. The new function can instantly switch between several configurations. It’s an attempt to combine opposites in a single context, so that you can keep your wits about you as you navigate a busy street without being overwhelmed by the sound of the garbage truck.
Despite sharing a name with last year’s Adaptive Transparency addition, Adaptive Audio provides a wider range of options, including both transparency and noise cancellation.
“Adaptive Transparency, which we announced last year, that has to happen really quickly,” Product Marketing Director Eric Treski said. “That happens at 40,000 times a second. That’s not only the monitoring, that’s the reduction as well. In order to bring that down quickly, it needs to be happening in real time. Adaptive audio is a little bit slower over the course of a few seconds, because it’s meant to be a much more methodical process to know what you’re listening to. We’re going from Adaptive Audio into transparency, so — in order to make it less jarring and more comfortable — it’s much more purposely slower for that reason.”
The type of audio you’re playing is also taken into account by the algorithm. Apps like Apple Music use tags to determine such things. To acquire an accurate reading of the loudness you’re hearing, a microphone can also measure the sound pressure inside your ear canal.
“Because if you only measure the loudness that you think you’re playing into someone’s ears,” VP of Sensing and Connectivity Ron Huang explains, “depending on how they’re wearing it and other factors, it may be less accurate.”
Huang declared that the company contemplated using the GPS in your mobile device to calculate ambient noise levels. However, the strategy failed in practical applications.
“During early exploration for Adaptive Audio, we basically put you in ANC versus transparency, based on where you are,” says Huang. “You can imagine the phone can give a hint to the AirPods and say, “hey, you’re in the house” and so forth. That is a way to do that, but after all our learnings, we don’t think that is the right way to do it, and that is not what we did. Of course, your house is not always quiet and the streets are not always loud. We decided that, instead of relying on a location hint from the phone, the AirPods monitor your environment in real time and make those decisions intelligently on their own.”
One prominent feature of Adaptive Audio is the ability to adjust the volume to your liking. According to Apple, “machine learning to understand environmental conditions and listening preferences over time to automatically fine-tune the media experience” is combined with “a pool of user data to build a more complete picture of listener habits.” Several measures are provided.
“We took tens of thousands of hours of different data — different users listening to different content and with different background noise — to really understand different listening preferences, and what are distractors and aggressors from a noise standpoint to keep your content really clear,” Huang adds. “We also remember your personal preferences. Given a type of environment, the amount of noise there, how loud you typically listen to your content, and remember it for you. We add it to our machine learning model to make it work even better for you.”
Another new iOS 17 feature, Conversational Awareness, lowers song volume while you converse to avoid distractions. It only works with the wearer’s internal voices. Apple does this without maintaining “voice profiles” locally. Several sensors are already on board. The feature activates when microphones detect speech and accelerometers detect jaw movement. Duration depends on several factors. I was surprised that the feature could disregard minor noises like throat clearing and yawning.
The crew also tried to fix another earbud issue. The five seconds it takes to answer a call and play it over headphones seem like an eternity. Users must be Apple ecosystem members to benefit from faster switching.
“Connection times for our AirPods to our devices are way faster with this new software update,” says Huang. “That comes from all of the different ways we are using to discover nearby devices. It’s really key for us to know what the iPhone is doing, what the iPad is doing, what the Mac is doing. A phone call is more important than music, so when you’re answering a phone call, we make sure we take the route away from the iPhone and connect with your Mac for the conference call, for example.”
Vision Pro connection is the final AirPods announced addition. Use Apple’s forthcoming spatial computing headset with the AirPods Pro for ultra-low latency lossless audio.
“Bluetooth typically runs on 2.4 gigahertz, and that airspace is very, very noisy,” says Huang. “Everybody’s running on 2.4. That’s why routers Wi-Fi routers, for example, are typically dual-band if not tri-band, because the 5Ghz spectrum is that much cleaner. To get to really, really low latency audio, and to get to really high fidelity, lossless audio — it’s all about a very, very clean and real-time channel between two. The combination of 5Ghz and the fact that they are very proximal allowed us to do that. We’re able to basically redesign a brand new audio protocol over the 5Ghz for AirPods.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to “The New AirPods’ Features”;
1. What are the new features of the latest AirPods model?
- The specific features of the latest AirPods model can vary depending on the release. Common new features might include improved sound quality, active noise cancellation, longer battery life, and enhanced connectivity options.
2. Do the new AirPods come with noise-canceling technology?
- Some of the newer AirPods models, such as the AirPods Pro, come with active noise-canceling technology, which can significantly reduce background noise for a better listening experience.
3. Are the new AirPods water-resistant or sweat-resistant?
- Some newer AirPods models, like the AirPods Pro, are designed to be water-resistant and sweat-resistant, making them suitable for workouts and outdoor activities.
4. Can I use the new AirPods with Android devices?
- Yes, you can use the new AirPods with Android devices. While they work seamlessly with Apple devices due to the W1 or H1 chip, they can also be paired with Android devices via Bluetooth.
5. Do the new AirPods have longer battery life than previous models?
- Newer AirPods models often come with improved battery life compared to their predecessors. However, the exact battery life can vary between models.
6. Are there any health or fitness features in the new AirPods?
- Some AirPods models, like the AirPods Pro, offer features like ear tip fit test, which helps ensure a secure and comfortable fit. They can also work well with fitness tracking apps on your paired device.
7. Can I use the new AirPods for making phone calls?
- Yes, the new AirPods models are equipped with microphones and can be used for making phone calls. They often have features like beamforming microphones to improve call quality.
8. Do the new AirPods come with wireless charging cases?
- Some new AirPods models, such as the AirPods Pro and AirPods with Wireless Charging Case, include wireless charging cases that allow you to charge the AirPods by placing the case on a wireless charger.
9. Are there different sizes available for the new AirPods?
- AirPods Pro, for instance, come with multiple ear tip sizes to ensure a comfortable and secure fit. Standard AirPods typically come in one-size-fits-most design.
10. Can I control music playback and access Siri with the new AirPods?
- Yes, you can control music playback, adjust volume, and access voice assistants like Siri (on Apple devices) using touch controls or voice commands with the new AirPods.
These FAQs provide an overview of common questions related to the features and functionality of the new AirPods models, helping users understand the capabilities of these popular wireless earbuds.