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Apple patent shows headphones that seamlessly switch between wired and wireless

Rumors of a new iPhone that eschews the standard 3.5mm headphone jack in favor of a single Lightning connector have existed for quite some time, but in recent months they’re starting to seem more and more credible. Now a new patent from Apple shows an interesting take on how the company could intend for this to work.

The patent, detailing headphones that support both wired and wireless connections, was published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and initially spotted by Apple Insider. Bluetooth headphones often include a 3.5mm jack and cable allowing them to be used in wired mode — and they’ve done this for some time — but the patent shows a much more streamlined approach.

Related: Why Apple’s next iPhone may kill the headphone jack, and what it means for you

Generally with Bluetooth, switching between wired and wireless means stopping playback. Apple’s patent shows that the headphones it is describing would automatically discover if a new wireless connection is from the same device that they are plugged in to, and automatically switch playback to the other mode. This would be done using a buffer inside the headphones, similar to anti-skip measures in CD players.

The patent doesn’t exactly specify a Lightning connector, but it does state that it requires a connector that is compatible with both analog and digital signals, which the Lightning connector is capable of. This would allow a single cable to transmit audio data and power to the headphones, allowing a connected iPhone to charge the onboard battery using “differential signaling” in order to eliminate ground loops.

While it’s easy to assume that wireless means Bluetooth when it comes to headphones, that may not be the case here. The patent states that wireless communication “can be performed according to any desired communication protocol or standard including, for example, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi (WLAN), NFC, or the like.”

As is generally the case with patents, most of the specifications are related to how the internal components would work, not how the actual product would be designed. That said, the patent does note that this would work with in-ear as well as on-ear and over-ear headphones.

Related: These new phones don’t bother with a headphone jack, but they’re not made by Apple

Of course, just because a patent was filed doesn’t mean we’ll see the product come to market, and this may not be the only headphone option Apple is working on for a future iPhone. Earlier this year we reported that Apple may be working on fully wireless earbuds by the name of AirPods, similar to the Moto Hint.

By the time an iPhone without a headphone jack is available, we may see another wholly different option. That said, the idea of plugging and unplugging while music continues to play is one we’d like to see actually come to light.

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