Apple eyes magnets to keep earphones from falling out


For active people who enjoy music or podcasts while engaging in vigorous movement, earphones that fall out remain a serious frustration.

The problem has generated some creative solutions: wrap the wires over your ear, the website Lifehacker recommends. SiliconBeat has tried this, and while the earphone may not plummet from the ear to drag on the ground, the speaker still ends up pulling out, requiring frequent re-insertion.

“If you’d prefer a more hacked-together approach you can always make your own hooks from twist ties,” Lifehacker suggests as an alternative to hog-tying your lobes. Ever-fashionable SiliconBeat refuses to try this method (why not duct tape if you’re really going to go the DIY route?).

But there’s hope, perhaps, at least for users of Apple products. The company in June filed for a patent — made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Dec. 29 — for earphones that are clamped to the ear with magnets.

To be sure, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently claimed Apple’s new wireless “AirPods” have never fallen from his ears because there are no wires to snag on things or drag the earphones down. But Cook, reports said, was referring to time he spent wearing the earphones while walking, using treadmills and dancing — and it could reasonably be assumed that the latter activity, for the tech honcho, would involve classic dad moves rather than spinning on his head.

It appears Cook may have ears shaped favorably for his product, but the AirPods experience was different for Sean O’Kane at tech website The Verge.

“Every time I wear AirPods it’s a constant battle to keep them in,” O’Kane wrote. “They don’t fall out immediately, and when I first twist them in I can get what feels like a snug fit. But they inevitably slide out, especially in my right ear.”

Apple’s patent application noted that for active people, and participants in sports, “earphones can move and/or become dislodged, either ruining the sound quality or falling out completely from a functional position with respect to a user’s ear.”

Apple’s possible solution goes beyond the over-the-ear hooks that some sports-specific earphones use. An ear hook would contain a magnet, as would the body of the earphone. Put the magnets on either side of the ear, and the speaker would remain firmly in place during vigorous movement, the application suggested.

It remains to be seen whether Apple will produce such earphones, as patent applications do not necessarily lead to actual products.


Image: A drawing from an Apple patent application for earphones held to the ear with magnets (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)


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