Thanks to the processors in Apple’s wireless headphones, the company can add new features and improvements without having to buy a new model. This can come partly as updates to the basic software, partly via improvements in the Iphone and the other devices that communicate with the headphones.
The latter is exactly what Apple has invested heavily in ahead of this autumn’s updates of iOS, iPad OS, Mac OS, TV OS and Watch OS. Both regular Airpods and Airpods Pro get several new features that will make them even better.
Switches device automatically
One of the best things about Airpods is that they automatically pair with all your other devices that use the same iCloud account. As soon as you connect them with Iphone, you can also start using them with your Mac, Ipad, Apple TV and so on.
But until now, you still had to open the bluetooth settings to change device. And it is not automatic at all.
With iOS 14 and the other new system versions released this fall, Airpods will begin switching devices automatically. Say you’re listening to music from your Iphone with Airpods. Pause the music there and start playing a Youtube video on your Mac and Airpods will follow and you will hear the sound from the video instead of silence. If you then get a call on the Iphone and answer, Airpods switches back to the phone.
Directed sound for Airpods Pro
When you watch movies or play games with surround sound on the Iphone, you will now be able to hear the sound around you with Airpods Pro. The headphones create a virtual surround experience similar to Dolby Atmos for Headphone or DTS Heaphone: X).
This is tricky when you move because the sound has to be adjusted so that it always sounds like a certain sound is coming from a certain direction. Apple accomplishes this by using data from the gyroscope and accelerometer in both the iPhone and Airpods Pro to determine how they move relative to each other. The sound is then changed so that sounds that are to come “from the front” always sound as if they are coming from the phone screen.
Unfortunately, the function only comes to Airpods Pro: Ordinary Airpods will continue to be able to cope with normal stereo sound.
IOS 13 had a practical new feature for Iphone and Ipad that can increase battery life. Optimized charging later also came to modern Macbook models with Mac OS 10.15.5. With the function activated, the system learns how to use the device and makes sure to only charge the battery to 80 percent when you do not need the last 20 percent. With iOS 14, optimized charging also comes to Airpods.
Lithium-ion batteries feel best when they have between 20 and 80 percent charge. By less often charging up to 100 percent and not keeping the battery so charged, the wear on the battery cells is reduced, which leads to longer life. This can be especially good for Airpods that are often used for several hours a day. The only thing you need to do to take advantage of the feature is to remember to put the headphones in the charging case a little more often, then the system should fix the rest.
In addition, this is not the only news on the battery front. If the battery is running low, iOS 14 displays a small note, so you’re not surprised by the silence in the middle of a call or song.
Hearing health and adaptations
Hidden in Aids in the Settings app, we find a new feature that will be useful even for those who do not have hearing loss. Headphone adjustments increase the volume of weak sounds and adjust sounds so that everything becomes clearer. Apple has even developed a small A / B test to help you find the right adjustments for your ears.
Another novelty that can improve hearing health is under Sound and haptics. It is called Reduce loud sounds and is a volume limiter that sets a ceiling on how loud sounds the headphones should emit. This can be especially handy for children whose ears are more sensitive to loud noises (and may not notice that they have been listening at too high a volume for too long).
The Health app also has a new section for headphone volume that shows how loud you have listened, and warns you if the total sound energy you have been exposed to over time is too high.
Exercise API for developers
Apple is not alone in being able to use data from gyroscope and accelerometer data from Airpods Pro in iOS 14. Third-party developers also get access to this data via a new programming interface called the Motion API.
This can be really great for fitness apps that can use data from Airpods Pro (perhaps in conjunction with the Apple Watch) to measure new forms of exercise and sports that previously could not be measured properly. For example, we can imagine how apps can count repetitions for exercises where the head moves up and down while the hands are stationary, such as push-ups and pullups. The Apple Watch cannot detect that you have done a push-up, but the Airpods Pro can.
Game developers could also use the Motion API in various creative ways. Think, for example, of a quiz app where you can answer by shaking your head for no or nodding for yes. Or a game where you play a dog and can tilt your head to hear better. Not to mention music games where you collect points by headbanging.
Apple’s own improvements in Airpods are good enough, but the most interesting news may come from other developers and we look forward to seeing what they can come up with.
Translated and edited by Anders Lundberg.