Apple AirPods new patented design suddenly looks much more appealing

Apple thinks a touchscreen case could solve some of the problems with controlling wireless audio

Apple AirPods Pro 2 true wireless earbuds
(Image credit: Apple)

How do you make your best true wireless earbuds even better? If you're Apple, you put a touchscreen display on the charging case. Or at least, that's the idea Apple has been exploring in a newly unearthed AirPods patent with the catchy title "Devices, Methods and Graphical User Interface Interactions with a Headphones Case".

According to the patent, "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.)."

The case wouldn't replace the existing touch controls on your AirPods Pro 2, or send Siri packing. Rather, the touchscreen would "complement conventional methods for controlling wireless headphones". It's all about simplicity: Apple reckons that adding a touchscreen would help streamline and speed up some common tasks. 

What would a touchscreen AirPods case actually do?

Apple describes several different scenarios, but the most likely is something akin to the interface you get when you're playing Apple Music on your iPhone: track information and artwork, transport and volume controls, and icons for things such as adding the currently playing song to your Favorites. If that sounds rather like the much-missed iPod, that's probably deliberate – and I think it sounds rather charming too.

But Apple isn't just looking to the past here. One suggestion in the patent is that you might squeeze the charging case to change the noise cancelling mode of your AirPods; another is that you might use the touchscreen as a notification and control area for key iPhone apps such as Messages, Weather and Maps.

As ever, this patent was unearthed by the eagle-eyed Apple watchers at Patently Apple – and as ever, just because Apple files a patent for something doesn't mean it'll necessarily turn that something into a shipping product. But as much as I love voice and gesture control, sometimes you can't beat a good old-fashioned finger-stabbed screen – and with Apple reportedly making more screen-based devices such as the rumoured HomePod smart display, it's clear that Apple is open to putting screens in places it's never put them before.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (