Apple seeking patent for ‘hybrid’ wireless headphones

The recent headlines have not been very kind to Apple, but this latest report seems to steer the company back in the industry-leading direction that its adoring fans have become accustomed to.

A patent application discovered by AppleInsider late last week reveals that the company may be planning to produce "hybrid" headphones that can seamlessly switch between wired and wireless connections.

"The invention, titled 'Detachable wireless listening device,' describes headphones designed to free listeners from the burden of wires by leveraging wireless transmission technology, such as Bluetooth," explains AppleInsider's Mikey Campbell.

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The patent reportedly calls for earbud headphones that connect to some sort of "host device" using a two-part, detachable wire. The device appears to be held together using a clip or a magnet, similar to the MagSafe power adapter technology used in Apple's laptop computers.

When connected, these headphones are quite standard: each earbud receives an audio signal through the cord connected to the media player, but these particular headphones are constantly charging as they store energy for wireless use.

When the headphones are detached, intentionally or unintentionally, the host device suspends the charge as it begins sending the audio signal to the earbuds via some sort of radio communication.

"It's a neat trick, and one that would definitely help Apple gain even more cred when it comes to its headphone offerings," explains Darrell Etherington in a TechCrunch blog. "The new Apple EarPods were a good start, but something like this could actually elevate their headphones to something more than just an adequate sound delivery device that comes in the same box as iPhones and iPods — it could make headphones an actual selling point."

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But before you get too excited, a patent filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn't quite guarantee that these headphones are in the works. Apple owns many patents.

And as former CEO Steve Jobs once explained, radio communication such as Bluetooth isn't suitable for headphones because no one wants to charge both their iPod AND the accompanying earbuds.

But that was back in 2005; Bluetooth technology has come a long way in the past seven years, and Apple currently offers Bluetooth 4.0 throughout their entire lineup of mobile devices.

These hybrid headphones look pretty cool, and if the iPad Mini rumours are indeed true, the new Apple clearly isn't afraid to veer off the beaten path that Jobs had laid for it.

(Photos courtesy of AppleInsider)