Apple is attempting to patent new biometric authentication technology that would make wireless headphones more secure. The company’s patent application was recently published by the US Patent and Trademark Office, and details technology that would presumably be used in Apple’s AirPod line of products.
As it stands, Apple’s AirPods can be synced with another device (like an iPhone) to enable more personalized features. The problem is that many people tend to share their headphones with their friends. If those headphones are still synced to a personal device, the borrower could end up receiving information and notifications that the owner would prefer to keep private.
The new Apple patent application is designed to close those security gaps. In practice, the improved AirPods would be able to biometrically (and independently) verify the user’s identity using one of several different modalities. The headphones would then unlock certain features only when they recognize the wearer. In doing so, Apple would be able to deliver highly personalized integrations with other devices, while still allowing people to share headphones knowing that their personal data is secure.
The proposed AirPods would be able to identify people with gait or voice recognition, or by conducting a scan of the wearer’s inner ear. The patent application also mentions possible Touch and Face ID utilities. The biometric security feature would be able to block communication in both directions, so an unauthorized wearer would not be able to use the AirPods to issue commands to a paired smartphone and vice versa.
According to Apple, automatic biometric authentication will speed up the AirPod setup process, which will in turn improve battery life and reduce power device power consumption. Apple has been rumored to be working on biometric AirPods for the past several years, and is even reportedly working on devices that would use microphones to track the wearer’s respiration.