Is Apple planning a new iPod-like device? I have to admit, when I saw the news of this new patent, I felt a little flutter in my jeans at the possibility. I’ve missed the iPod and longed to see its return, which I knew was nothing but a pipe dream.
But maybe, just maybe, we’re getting a little closer to my dream. Last week, the US Patent and Trademark Office published a patent that Apple filed in September 2021. The patent depicts a device that looks to be an iPod Nano in an AirPods case with a touchscreen on the front.
The patent reads, in part:
Audio output device cases are commonly passive devices used to charge audio output devices. The utility of a headphone case can be enhanced, and user control over a user’s wireless headphones can be improved, by configuring a headphone case with an interactive user interface to enable user control of operations associated with the wireless headphones.”
There is a need for a headphone case device that can control operations that are traditionally associated with headphones (e.g., playback controls, changing audio sources, changing audio output modes, etc.). There is a further need for a headphone case that can also convey information to a user, through haptics and/or display devices. Such methods and interfaces optionally complement conventional methods for controlling wireless headphones. Such methods and interfaces reduce the number, extent, and/or nature of the inputs from a user and produce a more efficient human-machine interface.
As I read that and try to decipher what Apple is saying, I see the potential for this design to either be a standalone device, where the case and the headphones act in tandem to deliver the audio, or as a slave device that would allow for the control of another device through the screen on the case, much like we’re able to control iPhone apps from the Apple Watch. It does a pretty good job of allowing you to control those apps without digging into your phone, and you can even download content to it so you can go out of the house with your AirPods and watch and leave the phone behind. But I always thought that feature was for folks who were working out and wanted to ditch trying to carry their phone around in their gym shorts.
Patents like this are filed all the time, and this patent doesn’t mean Apple is planning on making this device, but I sure hope they do. I would certainly enjoy kicking back and just listening to music through the AirPods, controlling them from the case. No phone calls or texts or other notifications. Just me and my music, like it used to be back in the day with the OG iPod. And my stereo, Walkman, CD Walkman, car stereo, boombox…etc, etc. There aren’t too many single-use devices in the world that just let you focus on the task at hand (the Kindle being probably the most popular). There’s a line from the Uncle Tupelo song “We’ve Been Had”: “There’s no call waiting in my headphones.” And I kinda long for those days again. But as I write this, I realize there are a lot of you who never had call waiting. It was a feature on landline phones where, if you were on the phone and another call came in, you could hit a button and switch to the incoming call and then switch back to the original call when you were done talking to the person on the other line.
Anyway, the new Touchscreen AirPods have the potential to cut down on the number of devices we would need to listen to audio, which would be cool. They have the potential to be that single-use music/podcast/audiobook listening device I’ve been longing for.
But suffice it to say, this patent has allowed me to dream again. It would get back to the roots of how Apple became the company it is today. Yes, they’ve always done the computer thing, but the iPod was Steve Jobs’ lightning in a bottle moment. He changed the entire music industry (for better or worse) with the advent of the iPod, and by extension, he changed how we communicate forever. The iPod begat the iPhone, which begat the iPad, and the whole paradigm of how we ingest information took a huge step from being mostly tethered to a big computer at a desk to becoming more and more mobile. I would love to see the iPod make a comeback. If this patent does signal a return of the idea, I’ll be all over it. But honestly, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Steve Jobs has been dead for 12 years, and Apple is a much different company with much different goals these days.
But what about you? Do you want to see a new iPod-like device integrated into the AirPods, or is it an idea that’s in the past and deserves to stay there? If Apple introduced this device, would you buy one, especially considering the premium price they would demand over the already pricey AirPods?